Whilst campaigning in the 2010 General Election, one of the recurring themes that people spoke to me about was housing, or rather the lack of it at affordable prices, in the Hayes area.
With rocketing house prices many can’t afford to buy, and once trapped in the private rentals market they have little hope of saving up the deposit needed to escape this vicious circle.
With this in mind, our local Labour MP John McDonnell (above left) gave the following speech in Parliament recently
Local tenants get a raw deal
Mr McDonnell makes a persuasive case, and in many aspects I agree with him. This is a subject that needs to be brought up in The Commons, and solutions need to be found. The link between poor housing conditions and poor health is also putting a strain on our NHS as many suffer with issues brought on by damp conditions.
However, there are some serious flaws that need to be addressed before we can move on and sort out the issues.
Locata is the system whereby local tenants ‘bid’ for available properties. John says that this is not a perfect system in the video, but he is only half way to realising the issue. Friends of mine who have put their name in to Locata say that to get any chance of the scant property that becomes available, you need to be on site at the council offices on a Friday afternoon to jump on them. You can now apply on line, but again you would have to have internet access to be able to do this, and also be ready to look on the Friday afternoon – A bit difficult if you are working and trying to better your situation.
Another point touched upon in his speech is the link between the housing situation and family breakdown. I am acutely aware of this, as it has happened to me and also to some of my friends.
Fortunately my family split was only brief , but it brought home to me the pressures involved where high private rents are matched to a declining income brought about by the economic downturn. It is also evident that the way the system is set up punishes traditional families, and encourages the single parent model and welfare dependency – It is far easier to cover a high private rent in housing benefit than to take a job on a moderate wage and see most of it go to your landlord. I know of people who now live apart because it is the only way they can afford to put a roof over their children’s heads, a sad indictment of a system that was overseen and expanded by Mr McDonnell’s party during their thirteen years in power.
When I was growing up, housing tended to be either council owned or via private landlord if you did not own your property.
During the ‘Right to Buy’ scheme of the 1980’s introduced by the Thatcher government, large amounts of social housing were sold to the sitting council tenants at heavily discounted rates to boost the private housing market and give people a ‘foot on the ladder’.
Whilst the initial idea was, in my opinion, sound and boosted the property market across the country, the money generated from the sales which should have been re-invested in to new housing stock was squandered and we now have the situation across the borough that we currently see- Next to no council owned property left. This has led to the growth of the Housing Association, who act like private landlords but rent to the local authorities.
The housing associations claim to be not for profit organisations, but which companies do you know that are not state controlled that can generate cash in quantities sufficient to buy swathes of houses and not expect a return on their investment? I have friends who live in Housing Association properties, and their rents are not far behind that of the private sector – Does that suggest that these agencies are philanthropic, or making money for their investors?
Buy to Let
For many years, buy to let has been seen as a market to make money in for speculators – In Hillingdon, it is an absolute goldmine because of the housing shortage. I have been moved on from privately rented properties several times in the last ten years, usually when the landlord has advised me that my rent is going up beyond what I can afford at the end of a 12 month lease because of another influx of homeless people in to the area. The council then pay above the going rate because they have a duty to house these people, whilst I have to move again to yet another rental on a short term lease. These priority cases are never local Hillingdon people, and in many cases have only just arrived in the country.
The Way Forward
One thing that John McDonnell fails to mention in his speech is the impact of mass immigration on the availability of housing in our area. With a huge increase in new arrivals, the pressure on our infrastructure has become acute.
Continuing with this open door policy is akin to keeping the tap running when the bath is full, and is completely unsustainable. Before we can even attempt to solve the housing crisis, we need to stabilise the population.
Building of new social housing is also of vital importance, breaking the dependency on housing associations and buy to let landlords who are charging the council extortionate rates – Rates that are paid for out of our taxes.
Part of the English Democrats manifesto is to encourage better use of brownfield sites for housing, and to place tighter restrictions on building on green field sites such as the proposed development at Minet Drive and the rumoured plans concerning Hayes Park in Charville. In Doncaster, our elected council leader Peter Davies (Above left) is pushing forward with a plan to build council houses for local people – Something that the major parties have failed to do in the last 20 years.
Such construction can also generate new jobs, vital in a working class area such as Hayes. With the levels of unemployment locally, we need to train our young people to be able to fill these positions and contribute to the local economy whilst giving them a purpose and helping to lower the welfare bill. Such construction on public money needs to be used as a kick start for the area, and not as a cash drain in the way that the Olympic site in Stratford has been (Less than 1000 of the workers on the site are from the locality)
This is not rocket science – It is common sense
Building homes for local people using local labour on disused sites – It doesn’t really take much imagination.
“But there is no money in the kitty to build these houses” will be the cry you hear from Hillingdon council- There will never be enough money if we keep paying out in inflated private rents on housing benefit to property speculators, so a short term investment is a long term gain. Besides, we can allegedly afford to lay out hugely increased amounts of money in foreign aid and £48 million per day in EU contributions – Maybe it is time to put England first!
What do you think? Should we start building council housing on disused sites in the area? Do you have any other ideas, such as compulsory purchase of housing that has been long term empty? We want to hear YOUR views.