Lambeth Labour has been campaigning against the Tory government’s disastrous Housing and Planning Bill since it was announced last autumn. As the Guardian reported recently the bill could see the death of social housing in this country and the effects of the bill on Lambeth could be devastating. Some of the worst measures in the bill include:
- Letting private developers off the hook for providing social housing, taking the power away from Lambeth which has seen over 2,500 social and affordable rented homes secured in the borough for local families in the past five years
- Replacing the current definition of affordable homes with new ‘starter homes’ that will cost up to £450,000 meaning that only people with incomes above £77,000 will be able to afford them.
- Ending lifetime tenancies for new council tenants, reducing them to a maximum of just five years for vulnerable families.
- Forcing Lambeth to sell around 120 council homes a year to the highest bidder to pay for the introduction of the right to buy in housing associations,
- Punishing working council tenants with a tax that forces them to choose between worklessness and homelessness by charging tenants a tax for the difference in cost between their council rent and the market value: as much as £26,000 a year for a two bedroom flat in Waterloo, or £15,000 in Brixton.
When the Tories forced Housing Associations to voluntarily introduce the Right to Buy, bypassing Parliament last autumn, we led the charge in attacking that grubby deal. Lambeth faces losing over 120 council homes a year to compensate housing associations for the discount of over £100,000 that tenants will be offered to buy their home, which means that families waiting for social housing face an even longer wait as housing association and council homes are lost to private ownership.
When the Tories pushed ahead with their bill the leader of Lambeth Council, Lib Peck, was straight into Westminster to lobby against these proposals, meeting with ministers, meeting with the Labour front bench and giving evidence to the Select Committee on the huge damage the bill will do to council housing and local families in Lambeth.
And when opponents of the Housing and Planning Bill marched on Westminster, Lambeth Labour councillors were shoulder to shoulder with them in solidarity.
But we’re not just opposing the bill. We will fight against it, and we oppose what the Tories are doing but Labour in Lambeth is also taking a lead in tackling the housing crisis in Lambeth itself.
We pledged in 2014 that we’d get tough on rogue landlords, and we have. Last year Lambeth took a rogue landlord to court after he tried to cram families into illegal flats in West Norwood – and the courts fined him £400,000 as a result of Lambeth’s action. While Lambeth Council is getting tough on rogue landlords, the leader of Lambeth’s Tories is busy making money helping landlords evict tenants.
In 2012 we launched the Lambeth Housing Standard programme, to invest almost half a billion pounds to improve council housing in the borough, giving council tenants the homes that they deserve: warm, dry, decent places to call home. In the past four years we’ve already brought over 12,000 council homes up to the government’s decent homes standard. That’s more than we said we’d do in six years – and we’re determined to keep up the pace despite major cuts to Lambeth’s housing budget by the Tory government.
In 2014 we were re-elected with a pledge to build 1000 extra homes for council rent. With 21000 on the council’s waiting list and over 1800 homeless families, including almost 5000 children, in temporary accommodation, the need for the council to take a lead in building the homes we need to house the people of Lambeth has never been greater.
To build those homes the council has been bold. In Brixton we’re working with the local community to build 300 homes at Somerleyton Road, all the homes will be built for rent, with over 120 new homes for council rent right in the heart of Brixton.
But with a huge shortage of land, Lambeth is also taking some tough, but overdue, decisions. Many estates in the borough were built in the 1960s and 1970s when London’s population was much lower and was falling. We need our council estates to meet the needs of the borough today, so that means building more homes as well as offering the guarantee of a replacement home on the estate for all existing residents, tenants and homeowners.
In the past few months Lambeth has taken the decision to build more homes on three estates in the north of the borough, which will mean 500 extra homes: 300 extra homes for council rent and, like at Somerleyton road in Brixton, 200 extra homes for private renters so we can make good on our promise to offer a better deal for Lambeth’s private renters.
Lambeth is cutting private developers and private landlords out of the picture by building our new homes for rent and by setting up our own council-owned company Homes for Lambeth to stop private developers taking a cut and instead investing all the money back in securing more genuinely affordable housing for local people.
As a Labour administration, we won’t shy away from the tough and difficult decisions that we need to make to tackle the housing crisis but we will do so in a way that’s fair to both existing residents and those desperately in need of a home of their own. But we can’t do this on our own. The investment in council housing and the building of a new generation of estates for local families is hard-won and will only be secured with support from local people.
Councillor Matthew Bennett
Cabinet Member for Housing