GLYN ROBBINS applauds Corbyn’s strong stance on housing, but warns we must take action on council homes now
THE reaction of most housing campaigners to Jeremy Corbyn’s conference speech will be: “At last!”
Finally a political leader is listening to us and he’s not just talking about the housing crisis — he says he’ll do something about it.
But turning words into deeds is the responsibility of the whole labour movement. For too long we’ve allowed our homes and communities to be controlled by people who only want to make money out of them. As Corbyn rightly says, the ultimate symbol of this is Grenfell Tower.
When he was first elected leader, Corbyn said: “There’s no solution to the housing crisis that doesn’t begin with council housing.” That position must remain at the heart of Labour’s housing policy and attempts to dilute it resisted. We need to build the 500,000 new council homes Corbyn and McDonnell have pledged, but also invest in the 1.6 million we already have.
The economic case for a new generation of high-quality, municipally owned, energy-efficient homes is closed. It will create jobs, foster stable communities, defuse the volatile, unaffordable housing market and save the billions of pounds we currently waste on housing benefit and other knock-on effects of the housing crisis.
By bringing housing services back “in house,” we’ll also cut out the expensive, time-wasting, anti-union and dangerous practices that result from multiple layers of private contractors.
But restoring council housing to the mainstream isn’t a panacea. It must go hand-in-hand with real reforms to the super-exploitation of private renting.
Corbyn talked about the need to “control” rents and that’s welcome, but Labour’s policy needs to go further.
Most private tenants are never more than two months from a mandatory eviction notice. The Assured Shorthold Tenancies introduced by the Thatcher government that allow landlords to jack up rents and get rid of tenants who can’t afford them must be scrapped.
Some of the warmest applause for Corbyn’s speech greeted his comments about so-called regeneration projects which one conference delegate dubbed “re-gentrification.” These schemes, currently threatening dozens of estates around the country, are making the housing crisis worse while doing huge damage to working-class communities — and to the Labour Party.
At a time when the party is committing itself to reversing the ruinous private finance initiatives (PFI), local councils like Haringey are trying to launch PFI mark II!
People are facing the demolition of their homes with no real say and fl imsy assurances about their rights to rehousing. Corbyn’s announcement that, under a Labour government, tenants will get a vote before redevelopment goes ahead and a guaranteed like-for-like right to return is a breakthrough campaigners have long been arguing for.
But we can’t wait until the next election. There should be an immediate moratorium on all estate demolitions that don’t match Corbyn’s promise.
Conference speeches aren’t the place for detailed policy announcements — but there are still important areas where Labour’s commitments are vague and run the risk of repeating the mistakes of the past.
Some MPs, city mayors and councillors still deliberately confl ate council and housing association homes under the misleading term “social housing.” This obfuscation is used as cover for watering down commitments to providing “affordable housing,” another term that has lost credibility.
Council housing means homes that are publicly owned, with secure permanent tenancies and genuinely affordable “target” rents.
The Labour Party must also tackle the issue of housing associations. Many have moved a long way from their honourable roots and are behaving like corporate property developers. They’re building more homes for sale and private rent than for people on low and medium incomes, while paying their senior managers six- figure salaries.
Despite receiving £23 billion in government grants since 2000, housing associations have failed to deliver the homes we need in the way councils used to. If they are to have a role under a future Labour government, they must be brought under proper democratic control. For this — and the other things we need for a better housing future — Labour must commit to repealing the disastrous 2016 Housing and Planning Act.
Just waiting for Jezza to solve the housing crisis will be a huge mistake. Among the current priorities is that the government honours its promise to pay for fire safety measures in high-rise blocks.
We need to build a united, national movement to demand decent, secure, truly affordable and safe homes now — that’s the purpose of the National Housing Summit at NUT HQ in central London on November 25.
Local housing campaigns are breaking out all over the country. The labour and trade union movement must support them.
We must also stand together with the victims of Grenfell Tower and make sure the public inquiry doesn’t become the whitewash the Establishment wants it to be.
On the 14th of every month, people from the local community are holding a silent protest to remember the dead and demand justice. The last one had hundreds of people turning up. The next one needs to have thousands.
Silent Walk for Grenfell, meet 6.30pm outside Notting Hill Methodist Church, 240 Lancaster Road, London W11 — five minutes from Ladbroke Grove or Latimer Road Tube stations.