Thursday, 19 January 2017

Housing crisis requires bold action

Are you a victim of high rents? If you live in London then most probably because the housing market is out of control. Everyone knows that now, and an unprecedented amount of coverage on the housing crisis means we no longer need to tell each other that we have a housing crisis on our hands in this country. The time is now to act on this. Fortunately, an opposition to the housing crisis is beginning to emerge.

Last night saw another packed out talk in the House of Commons as part of the People’s Parliament discussion series, organised by Labour MP John McDonnell, to liven up and provide political depth to the debate in the run up to the next general election. Last night’s discussion was on ‘the housing and homelessness crisis’, where it was immediately obvious that people have become bored of warning people about the housing crisis and are moving on to demanding answers.

The statistics are utterly staggering. Over 1.7 million households are currently waiting for social housing which to be honest just isn’t going to arrive. More than 2 million people find their rent or mortgage a constant struggle or are falling behind with their payments. Average rents in London are £1,417 a month, meaning people are spending a totally disproportionate amount of their income on securing a roof over their head. Even today we have heard that London house prices have risen 18% in a year. To exemplify how bad things have got, according to Anna Minton, author of Ground Control, apparently someone recently was even asked to pay rent to sleep in a fridge.

Yes, we must build more homes if the UK’s population continues to increase as expected but building more homes is not the solution. Boris Johnson and our other UK local authority leaders were accused last month by housing campaigners of ‘selling off our city to the highest bidder’ – in reference to their support of the MIPIM conference in Cannes, France.

What the problem boils down to, as spelt out by Danny Dorling in his new book All That is Solid is that no one should be able to make a profit out of housing. Housing is not like gold, or oil or anything else one might wish to invest in. Housing is a basic need for everyone to be able to have a roof over their head. Therefore, letting the market dictate are housing is not the right way to go.

In the last few months an organisation called the Radical Housing Network has emerged which is made up of groups fighting for housing justice across London who are attempting to harness all this housing anger.

At the People’s Parliament a number of solutions were put forward. For a start we need rent controls and we then need a land value tax which would require ‘property owners to pay an annual levy based on the market value of the plot of earth beneath their home.’

We should listen to the Empty Homes Campaign by doing everything that is possible to bring empty properties back into use, of which there are still around 1 million across the UK. Bringing empty properties back into use also includes repealing the criminalisation of squatting as it’s become evidently clear that squatters do more good than harm.

The bedroom tax must be repealed and we should reverse the trend of selling off all our housing stock by investing in first class council housing instead. Housing experts are now calling for such measures up and down the country.

Over the weekend, we heard that housing policy could be the issue that decides the next general election and if true all political parties must get to grips with the crisis because currently none of them are proposing anything anywhere near bold enough.

At the sharp end homelessness has risen by 62 per cent in the last 2 years in London which can be directly attributed to government policies. Because housing involves us all, it’s the issue which defines this era. We have an opportunity now because housing is rising up the political agenda.

These discussions will continue at a gathering later this month where experts such as Danny Dorling and others will be speaking.

Joseph Blake is a freelance journalist and campaigner

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