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Saturday 12th
posted by Morning Star in Features

The Housing Bill is the most comprehensive attempt to transfer public assets to the private sector of recent decades, writes BRIAN RYE

WE are one step away from the concerted eradication of social housing in Britain. The Tories’ Housing Bill will accelerate a policy, started under the coalition government, to irrevocably change the social fabric of this country forever.

One of the first acts of the Tory-Lib-Dem coalition was to cut funding to social rented housing by two-thirds.

Then in 2012 the right-to-buy was escalated when discounts were doubled to £75,000 and £100,000 in London.

Now, the Tory Housing Bill is being teed up as the coup de grace of wholesale social engineering — the end of social housing in Britain.

The way the government has planned it is that housing associations will be forced to sell their stock at huge discounts via right-to-buy. Local councils will then be forced to reimburse the housing associations for the loss on their balance sheets of the discounted stock — by selling their own housing stock. The end result? No social housing.

In 1979 42 per cent of Britain lived in council housing. In 2016 that figure is now 8 per cent. This egregious Housing Bill will finish the job.

According to Terrie Alafat, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Housing, it will decimate social housing: “This is the first government since 1974 not to invest any capital in the new supply of social-rented homes. By 2020 we think there will be a loss of about 300,000-odd socially rented homes across the country. London is going to have a particular impact because of affordability issues.”

And there is the key — London and money. It is a booming international city that for a while — under the encouragement of the Tories — has been functioning as a separate city-state to the rest of Britain. It represents a third of the British economy.

Globalisation and global capital has taken over. Property prices are at a premium and availability of property is tight. And yet London local authorities are some of the largest property owners in the city. They still own billions of pounds worth of high value Victorian and Edwardian social housing. And this is what the Tories want to get their hands on. They don’t view social housing as a state asset or a resource for the poor — they view it as a business opportunity.

In the next decade the Old Oak Common development in West London will become Europe’s largest urban regeneration project with both Crossrail and HS2 right at its centre. The Grand Union Canal which runs through it is set to be lined with 45,000 new homes — none of which will be affordable for ordinary people.

Heathrow will be minutes away. And yet the nearest urban centre to this behemoth development is Harlesden, in the borough of Brent — one of Britain’s most socially deprived areas. The extremely poor, immigrant community of Harlesden is right next to what is about to become Britain’s largest transport hub.

As any property developer will tell you — new infrastructure means huge property price hikes.

Brent Council owns a lot of property in its borough, sometimes whole streets. Following a Freedom of Information request, Ucatt ascertained that Brent Council’s property portfolio is worth £2.2 billion and this will be a conservative estimate.

The council owns 2,000 houses and 4,000 flats — these figures don’t include housing association property which also proliferates in Brent. An unmodernised Victorian house, sitting right next to what will be a Willesden Junction/Crossrail/HS2 super-hub, is now selling for £650,000 and unmodernised two bed flats for £450,000.

These are what the Tories want to get their hands on. 

If this Housing Bill is passed, the large volumes of housing association stock in Brent will be sold off at right-to-buy discounts of £112,000 and then Brent Council will have to take its £2.2bn worth of Victorian houses to auction, which is how local authorities sell property.

You need cash to buy at auction and who has the cash — Tory property developers.

And this is just one London borough. Taken together London local authorities own hundreds of thousands of properties because until recently inner city living was for the poor and disadvantaged. Now social trends have changed and inner London has been gentrified. The Tories are salivating at the prospect of getting their hands on arguably the largest multi-billion housing deal this country has ever seen.

And what of the poor and those dependent on living in affordable social housing? Well, their time is up. The Bill will do away with lifetime security tenure for new council tenants reducing it to a mere five years. It will deliver the poor back into the waiting arms of the private landlord.

Over 120 years ago the Housing for the Working Classes Act of 1890 was passed to try to house the poor because the private sector was failing them. This Bill returns the poor to the slums of Victorian Britain, while the Tory property developers are adding loft conversions on their £2m houses in Harlesden and Old Oak Common.

The venal nature of Cameron’s government is a national disgrace. The working people of Britain are being robbed of their own assets. Council housing and local authority property belongs to the people — you and me — not the thieves in the Tory Party.

We must fight this Bill with everything we’ve got. Those with a heart, a conscience and a desire to keep the good in this great country of ours must renew the fight against Cameron’s own social engineering.

  • Brian Rye is acting general secretary of construction union Ucatt.