A Labour London councillor on today’s green paper.
London faces a housing crisis: it’s one of the most obvious statements a politician can make in 2018.
Too many Londoners can’t afford to buy their own homes. Private renters have little security and face extortionate rents and fees. Council housing waiting lists remain stubbornly high.
None of that is new news. And yet, the government has once again shown that it completely misses the point when it comes to the housing crisis.
Today’s much anticipated, and delayed, Social Housing Green Paper should have been a chance for the new communities secretary James Brokenshire to make a break from past missed opportunities. Unlike his rather flash predecessor, current home secretary Sajid Javid, Brokenshire has talked honestly and with apparent understanding about the housing crisis and the need for real action.
It is therefore all the more disappointing that the Green Paper is a complete damp-squib when it comes to new policy that will make any difference to tackling the housing crisis.
It’s welcome news that the final nail has been hammered into the coffin of the government’s 2016 plans to force councils to sell-off ‘high value’ council homes – something I and many others have campaigned against since it was first announced and which, according to housing charity Shelter, would have seen as many as 23,000 council homes sold-off in a year.
But it’s hard to celebrate, when there’s not a single penny of new funding for local councils to build new council homes.
There was no announcement that Right to Buy will be fixed, so that homes lost are replaced like for like in the same area.
Worst of all, the government failed to announce its support for the single simplest policy it could adopt, which would help councils build thousands of new homes and would cost the government absolutely nothing – lifting the red-tape that stops councils from borrowing to build.
The artificial cap on councils’ ability to borrow to build new council homes is maddening. The ‘New Homes Blocker’ is stopping councils across London from building new council homes.
The reason the government won’t change its position is because the UK is one of the only countries in Europe that counts such borrowing as part of national debt. A simple change in accounting policy would allow councils to borrow prudently, and at record-low costs, to finance the building of thousands of new council homes, repaying the borrowing through the rents on the new homes.
Councils like Islington are building more council homes now than we have for the last 30 years. But without either significant government investment or the lifting of the borrowing cap for councils, our ambitions to fight the housing crisis face yet more hurdles to overcome.
Diarmaid Ward is a Labour councillor and the executive member for housing & development at the London Borough of Islington.