Swindon Tenants Campaign Group Media Release March 9th 2014 

Swindon Housing Strategy: a Council house building programme is needed to tackle the housing crisis

Swindon Tenants Campaign Group has produced a discussion document analysing Swindon’s housing crisis and how it can be tackled. It’s a response to the “Housing Market Support” document voted through by the Council last year. Swindon Borough Council will soon open up a consultation on updating its housing strategy. STCG has put forward a series of practical proposals. Read or dowload the document here stcghousingsubmission

According to the Council’s own estimate each year the town builds 800 too few “affordable homes”. That is, every year the shortage increases. However, its outline proposals in the “Housing Market Support” document fail to put forward proposals to tackle this shortage and provide genuinely affordable homes for rent. Swindon Tenants Campaign Group is proposing that the Council should

  • Launch an annual Council house building programme, borrowing money from the Public Works Loan Board, which offers cheaper interest rates than the market, and using some of the money from the ‘New Homes Bonus’.
  • Maintain Council rents for all Council homes rather than introducing the government’s “Affordable rent model” (up to 80% of market rates).
  • Provide additional resources to enable Council staff to try to improve the quality of housing in the Private Rented Sector (PRS) in which over 30,000 people now live.
  • Examine introducing licensing for all Houses in Multiple Occupation and selective licensing of other rented accommodation in the town.
  • Campaign for a change in housing policy at the national level: for national subsidy for Council house building, and for ending to ‘Right to Buy’ which is responsible for the loss of badly needed homes from the Council stock. 

Martin Wicks, Secretary of STCG said:

“The biggest problem that the town faces is a massive shortage of homes with genuinely affordable rent. The Council has lost over 7,000 homes under ‘Right to Buy’. The PRS has filled the gap resulting from the shortage of ‘social housing’ but private rents are up to double the level of Council rents. The shortage has been reflected in the rise in the number of households on the Housing waiting list, which broke through the 16,000 mark in October of last year. The priority households on the list have risen to 7,497. STCG is calling for an end to RTB to stop the loss of stock which is desperately needed.

The only way that this shortage can be addressed is by starting to build Council housing once again. We need to campaign for a change in national housing policy, for subsidy for Council house building to be reinstated. However, the Council can begin an annual Council house building programme even if not on a scale as large as we need. It can borrow money from the government’s Public Works Loan Board. It could also use some of the money which it has gained from the government’s ‘New Homes Bonus’. This would at least counteract the loss of Council homes from RTB. For instance, if it borrowed £10 million it would enable it to build 100 or so homes.

The town needs an increase in the number of homes with ‘social rent’. If the Council introduces “affordable rent” we will lose Council homes with Council rents. This will push up the housing benefit bill as a result of the much higher rent levels of “affordable rent”. Driving rents up towards market levels makes no sense.

Given the size of the PRS in the town the Council needs to increase resources so that it’s staff can strive to improve the quality and safety of housing provided in the sector. It does not currently provide sufficient resources to carry out its policy of improving the standard throughout the sector. As we saw with the recent fire death in a private rented house in Rodbourne, regulation of the sector, or absence of it, can have life or death consequences.”

For further comment ring Martin Wicks on 07786394593

Visit our website at: https://keepourcouncilhomes.wordpress.com

Facts and figures

  • Between the 2001 and 2011 Censuses the number of homes in the PRS increased from 5,638 to 14,169 households. The number of people living in the sector nearly tripled from 11,359 to to 32,811.
  • In 2012-13 40 Council homes were sold under “Right to Buy”. The government said there would be a “one for one replacement”, yet it takes 75% of the sales receipts. For the 40 homes sold last year the Council was only able to hang onto £424,000. In order for the town to spend even this paltry amount the government imposes conditions from Westminster. They are imposing “affordable rent” and limiting the amount of RTB receipts  which can be spent on each home built to 30%. This means the Council would have to find the other 70% from our own resources or borrow the money. If the Council does not agree to these terms then the government will confiscate our receipts.
  • According to Department of Communities and Local Government figures, 7,605 homes in Swindon have been sold under ‘Right to Buy’.
  • Swindon Council says that Swindon’s standards for HMO’s “are for all types and sizes of HMO whether or not they require licensing.” It aims to ensure that the PRS in the town “is of a decent standard to protect the health and safety of tenants”. However, it has only 3 “Enforcement Officers” to do this job, an impossible one for a sector which may well have grown to 15,000 homes today.
  • The Council estimated that last year private homes (including the PRS) had more than 11,000 serious (HHSRS Category 1) hazards.
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