The head of a Croydon homelessness charity has today roundly criticised the government’s White Paper on housing for being too reliant on property developers, for “a preoccupation with ownership at all costs”, and for the “ideological imposition” of Tory right-to-buy policy on housing associations and local authority housing companies, which he says risks make the growing problem of homelessness even worse.
Jad Adams is the chair of Croydon Nightwatch, which was established 40 years ago and recently issued a report which showed that homelessness in the borough is worse than at any time since the 1970s.
Nightwatch runs a soup kitchen and help centre every night of the year in Queen’s Gardens, outside Croydon Town Hall and which is in the heart of the parliamentary constituency of Gavin Barwell, the Tory housing minister who is promoting the measures contained in the White Paper.
In a Croydon Commentary article for Inside Croydon, Adams says that the White Paper fails to offer any real solutions to the current housing shortage, only reinforcing the free market principles upon which property owners and landlords increase their wealth.
“It is the notion that a market could provide housing solutions for all that is at fault,” Adams writes.
“The White Paper is ideologically bound by a preoccupation with ownership at all costs where the future of housing lies in the rented sector. What we need to do is move away from the simple ‘market’ approach of treating housing as a product to sell, and looking at social need and the way we can work creatively to satisfy it.”
In his article, Adams calls for a return to rent controls to help provide more stability in the private rented sector, while removing tax disincentives for small landlords, and for local councils to be given powers to withdraw planning permissions from builders who “land bank” to maximise their profits. he also says that greater diversity of housing provision is required, particularly in a city such as London, rather than the over-reliance, as proposed in the White Paper, of new build for sale.
Adams says: “I see those people appearing at Nightwatch who had been good tenants and had no expectation that they would ever be homeless, but their tenancy was terminated at a month’s notice to make way for people able to pay higher rents. The re-introduction of rent controls, as we had before 1989, would solve this problem, but the White Paper does not address it.”
He is also critical of the Thatcherite right-to-buy policy, which Barwell and his department wants to extend to homes built by council-owned private housing companies, such as Brick by Brick in Croydon.
“Forced sales at forced discounts are certainly an intervention into the housing market, but not a welcome one,” Adams says. “In what way is this ideological imposition supposed to address the problem of housing shortage which is cogently outlined in the introduction of this report?”
Adams suggests that the premise of the White Paper – that the housing market is not working – is fundamentally flawed. As a market, Adams says, the housing market is clearly functioning very well, but only for landowners, property speculators and those people who are already fortunate to own their homes.
Indeed, Adams accuses the construction industry of deliberately slowing the pace of house-building to maintain demand. “We suffer a constructed scarcity in the housing market to keep the price of new houses high,” he says.
He writes: “There are many reasons why an individual might be homeless, but the reason for widespread homelessness as a phenomenon is the shortage of homes. Where homes are in short supply the people best equipped with money or skills to obtain the available ones get them. People disadvantaged for whatever reason – economically, socially or mentally – become homeless. We need more provision all round.”
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