Tory Housing Policy is a Joke (But a dangerous one!)

Housing

No not my idea of perfect housing but a South American Favella

Sometimes you oppose a policy because you just disagree with it. Sometimes you oppose it because it has been incompetently produced and will not be capable of being implemented.
Let me make clear that my opinion of the new Tory ‘Right to Buy’ proposals as they affect housing association tenants is both wrong in principle and inept in implementation .
Before I go to the detail there is one overriding fact that should be abundantly clear to everyone. The only way to prevent housing price inflation either in terms of the cost of buying a home or indeed renting a home is to build more houses. We haven’t built enough houses in the UK for at least 25 years. As our population has increased and as the number of units required as families get smaller the number of homes built in both the private and public sectors has been at least 100,000 per year less than we need.
Housing operates in a market. That market will reflect supply just as any other commodity. A scarcity of supply forces up prices. BUT housing is not just another commodity. It is an absolute basic of life. Without our ‘cave, we become more unhealthy, cannot eat properly, cannot study, cannot develop relationships cannot develop communities. No home means no life and for too long we as a society have given no homes and no lives to too many people.
The Thatcherite Right to Buy took too many homes out of the public rented system and did not allow councils to replace them with the capital receipts for the sale. BUT be under no illusion the Labour Party continued where Thatcher left off. There were 430,000+ less social homes in 2010 than there were in 1997. This is an absolutely shameful statistic.
The Tories current proposals are simply unworkable. How would we allocate money in Liverpool by selling off the best council housing to subsidise the sale of housing association homes under RTV when there are no council houses in Liverpool or 52% of the unitary or district councils in the country? Will assets be transferred from North to South or East to West? What will be the mechanisms be for mving asset values around?
How will we sell off a property which is bundled into an asset group by which our housing associations have borrowed more money to build the social housing that they provide?
How will they do this without destabilising their relationship with the banks that lend them the money which would force up the cost of borrowing and increase rents?
The Tories used to scoff at Labour for coming up with uncosted gimmicks. This election has seen the reverse of this.
What do we do next?
Firstly, we must change the view of society that people’s house is, above all, a financial asset. That may be part of it but for me my house is my home. Wherever I am in the World it’s the place that I want to come home to. It is a repository of my knick-knacks (sorry Erica), a place full of memories (mostly good) about events and happening. Its where we brought up two children and my son by my first marriage was always welcome along with many, many others. When I am feeling down there is nothing that picks me up than going home for a cuddle!
Secondly, we need to be much blinder to our housing tenure than we are now. For 30+ years we have believed that home ownership is THE state to be envied. For many of us it is the right thing. I know many young people who could afford to buy a house but chose not to. They move every 2 or 3 years with minimal expenses and have no responsibility for repairs and maintenance. Many European Countries which are at least as wealthy as our have much lower levels of home ownership. For many when they have lost the struggle to maintain their home after financial difficulties curse the day they became home owners.
Thirdly, we must eliminate the tax and other advantages which allow private landlords to invest in property at better mortgage rates than private individuals and get bigger tax concessions. I have no objection to the principle of private landlords. I have known many who give a good service and care for their tenants. But their fiscal position should not enable the mass of them to lead the market.
Lastly, we need to place housing in the context of communities. Large parts of our major conurbations have become ghettoes because of the way we deal with land values which distorts what can be built in certain areas. Ever wondered why we build social housing largely in areas of existing social housing? Because that’s where we can afford the land. There is far too little enforcement by councils of a reasonable level of social housing. For example the Mayor Liverpool’s disgusting plans to build on the Sefton Park Meadowlands currently has no social housing included in it. In Liverpool Labour’s utopian world only rich people can live in a park!
But all these are small beer compared to the need to build more housing. We suggest a number of actions to help this.
1. Stop land banking by big developers by removing planning permission much more quickly for none-performance.
2. Taking the land value out of house sales in certain areas and using the rights of freehold to ensure that people can only benefit by house price increases in line with inflation and that people in housing need can be ensured housing in the community in which they grew up.
3. Building new green towns where there is demographic diversity in which young and old, rich and poor and people of different faiths can live together rather than be segregated.
4. Involve communities more in planning applications so that they can see the benefits as well as disbenefits of development within their area.
5. Licence private landlords to ensure that the good landlords are not tarred with the brush of the bad.
6. Encourage large scale investors such as pension funds into mixed use rental developments. A really good scheme like this has just gone through the planning committee in Liverpool.
I could go on and often do. The fact is that there are many things that could be done to increase housing supply which reduce the cost of capital and revenue for housing. None of them is a game changer by itself but together a lot of small measures adapted to an areas’ needs will provide a solution.
The Liberal Democrats have costed this properly. We believe that it would be possible to build the 300,000 private and public homes we need by using these and other measures. We don’t need to look to the past for our housing solutions where much of what we did created not cured problems. We can be imaginative and embrace new ideas, new technologies and new methodologies to create the new names and new communities our country so badly needs.

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About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. UK representative on UCLG Finance Committee, Executive Bureau and World Council. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperon on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and three grandchildren.
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