Under-funding of council housing – Time to “reopen the (council housing debt) settlement”

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At a recent meeting of Swindon Council’s Housing Management Cabinet Member Advisory Group1 an Asset Management Strategy was discussed. This document brings together planning of the work that needs to be carried out to maintain the housing stock in good condition over the long term. One of the factors which it has to take account of is that 42% of the stock is “non-traditional”, i.e. pre-fabricated. It’s upkeep is more expensive than traditional building. A Stock Condition Survey carried out by the company Penningtons proposed that in order to prolong the life of the “non-traditional” properties, certain structural work would be necessary. They said this would require spending £7 million a year for 10 years. However, the council is currently spending only £2.5 million a year on this work. If spending remains at that level then it would take 28 years to do the work rather than 10!  Read on below or download a PDF here octobercmag More

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Council housing sham

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This is a letter published in the Swindon Advertiser today.

In the lead up to the Great Leader’s conference speech we were told to expect, in the words of government Minister Damian Green, nothing less than “the rebirth of council housing”. An excited media was predicting “under the PM’s housing plan, ministers will join forces with housing associations to build hundreds of thousands of new homes” (The Sun).

However, instead of the hundreds of thousands we discovered that May’s “plan” might add up to 25,000 “affordable homes” over 5 years. That is, 5,000 a year. At that rate it would only take 240 years to produce enough homes for the 1.2 million households on the waiting lists, always assuming nobody else was added to the list in the meantime. More

Council Housing “rebirth”: the child is dead on delivery

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This is an intial response to May’s announcement on housing, as we await more detail.

On the morning of Teresa May’s speech government Minister Damian Green announced that there would be a “rebirth of council housing”. Yet when she spluttered her way through the sppech it was clear that the child was sadly dead on delivery.

The money available for “affordable housing” was only £2 billion, compared to £10 billion for Help To Buy. According to a Tory Party press release the £2 billion “could” be used to produce 25,000 homes over 5 years. Even assuming these were all council homes 5,000 is a puny amount which would make little difference to the housing crisis. It would not replace those homes lost to RTB. Sales are running at more than 12,000 a year in England. Between 2010-2017 57,677 were sold off. In addition, from 2010-2016 there were 20,300 council homes demolished and only just over 10,000 built. Since 2010 there has been a decline in the number of council homes by 174,000. More

National Audit Office report on Homelessness highlights government failure

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Local authorities have increased their spending on homelessness while simultaneously reducing spending on preventing it.”

A report by the National Audit Office, despite its diplomatic language, highlights the responsibility of the government for an increase in homelessness. The statistics are stark.

  • Since March 2011 there has been a 60% increase in the number of households living in temporary accommodation; up to 77,240 in March 2017.

  • An increase of 73% in the numbers of children in temporary accommodation to 120,540.

  • An 134% increase in rough sleepers since 2010.

  • Spending on temporary accommodation has increased by 39% in real terms since 2010/11.

But for the efforts of local authorities to prevent homelessness the situation would be even worse. The number of cases where local authorities “took positive action to prevent homelessness” increased by 63% from 2009/10 to 2016/17; up to 105,240. They have also helped 93,390 households to obtain alternative accommodation, an increase of 23% over 2009/10.

The NAO estimates that three quarters of the rise in the numbers of households in temporary accommodation is the result of an unprecedented increase in the proportion of households who qualified for temporary accommodation because an Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST) in the private rented sector was ended by a landlord. They now make up 32% of homelessness cases. The report states:

The end of an ASTs is the defining characteristic of the increase of homelessness that has occurred since 2010.” Read on below or download a PDF here naoreporthomelessness More

What is Labour’s council housing policy?

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One of the expectations of Labour supporters is that a Labour government with Jeremy Corbyn as leader would build council housing on a large scale once again. From the start of his first leadership election campaign up to just before the General Election Jeremy spoke of building 100,000 council homes a year. In April the Guardian reported that his “top priority” was to build more council housing and introduce tougher regulation in the private rented sector. However, Labour’s policy as expressed in its Manifesto was far different from Jeremy’s statements.

The draft version of the Manifesto which was leaked to the media spoke of a commitment to building 100,000 council and housing association homes, with no indication of the proportion for each. Yet even this figure, which diluted the council housing component, did not survive in the published document. It was transformed into 100,000 “affordable homes” for “rent and sale” by the end of the Parliament; i.e. by year five. There was no indication of how this would break down. Would it, for instance, be 50,000 of each? The Manifesto does say that Labour will “begin the biggest council housing programme for at least 30 years”. However, we checked how many were built then. In England it was only 16,000.  Read on below or download a PDF here labourschcommitment More

How many council homes is Labour committed to building?

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Jeremy Corbyn has previously said that Labour would build 100,000 council homes a year. In the draft of the Manifesto which was leaked to the media the 100,000 was described as council and housing association homes. This figure did not survive in the published document. It was transformed into 100,000 “affordable homes” for “rent and sale”. What Labour would do was counter-posed to what the 1945 Labour government did.

The post-war Labour government built long-term affordable homes to rent, the next Labour government will build affordable homes to rent and buy. ”

In what proportions would the rent and sale be? 50,000 of each? Neither the Manifesto nor the Mini-Housing Manifesto which supplemented it indicated how the 100,000 would be broken down. In order to clarify what Labour’s position is we emailed John Healey and asked him “How many council homes are you committed to build. The 100,000 by the end of the Parliament is for ‘rent and sale’. In what proportions?” More

Grenfell Tower: the deadly consequences of under-funding of council housing

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Kensington & Chelsea Council documents confirm reports in the media that Leadbitter was “the proposed contractor” for the work on Grenfell Tower. It gave a price of £11.278 million1. However this was £1.6 million above the council’s proposed budget. So they put it out to tender again. A council update on the Grenfell Tower work read:

The refurbishment of Grenfell Tower is a large and complex project and time and careful planning has been required to ensure that the proposals and design of the scheme meet the requirements of residents, RBKC and Planners. Particular focus has been required to ensure that the project representing value for money and can be successfully delivered to the satisfaction of residents.”

Value for money”, of course, in the context of cash strapped councils often means short-cuts, cheap and shoddy work. In this case the question is posed, did this “value for money” decision lead to the deaths of Grenfell Tower residents? The contract went to Rydon for £8.77 million, 22% less than Leadbitter’s tender. (Read on below or download a PDF here underfundingandgrenfell) More

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