The party is pledging 100,000 new council homes
This week Labour has published an impressive ‘mini-manifesto’ offering housing policy and practice a ‘new deal’. Written by John Healey MP, the Shadow Housing Minister, the document pledges a range of joined-up initiatives to promote housing towards the top of the political agenda.
Most significantly, it promises the creation of a fully-fledged Department for Housing to tackle the housing crisis, which has deepened over the last seven years. This is a bold move, removing housing from the remit of the Department of Communities and Local Government, or its equivalents, for the first time since the 1970s.
Research shows how deep the housing crisis now runs, with mounting housing needs and homelessness, and rising demand, house prices and rents, while affordable housing supply stalls, despite all the initiatives and gimmicks over the last seven years.
In the face of this failure, Labour’s ‘new deal’ seeks to provide a comprehensive framework to confront challenges across housing — in home ownership, social renting and the private rented sector. Its approach is to raise the total number of homes being built until 2022, and a commitment to council house-building.
Local authorities will see an increase in their powers to build the homes that local communities want through assembly of more land for new development with strengthened compulsory purchase powers.
At least one million new homes are pledged over the next Parliament, with a 250,000+ building target for new homes by 2022. Of these, 100,000 will be genuinely affordable homes, including the biggest council house-building programme seen in more than 30 years.
This is in contrast to the Tories’ pledge to build a new generation of social housing in England, which unraveled over the weekend when they admitted that these homes will actually be let at ‘affordable rents’ (around 80 per cent of market rents), which are £43 per week higher than social rents.
The ‘new deal’ also plans to end rough sleeping within the next Parliament together with action to tackle the root causes of rising homelessness. Some 4,000 new homes for people with a history of rough sleeping will be made available; possibly though a ‘housing first’ approach to take account of complex needs.
There are promises to help first-time buyers get a foot on the property ladder too, with no stamp duty on a first home up to a value of £300,000, and ‘first dibs’ for local people on new homes built in their communities. Alongside, 100,000 new discount FirstBuy Homes, which will be linked to local average incomes to improve affordability, are also planned. The introduction of a new home-owner guarantee will help cover mortgage payments during periods of unemployment.
The ‘new deal’ will establish innovative consumer rights for private renters, with legal minimum standards as well as making three year tenancies the new norm, coupled with an inflation cap on rent rises. These reforms, providing greater security and affordability, will be welcomed by private renters.
Labour sets out some challenging targets it will meet through its ‘new deal’ on its first day, within the first month and by the end of its first year in government, including setting-up its Department for Housing, the publication of a Housing and Planning Bill, and establishing a Prime Minister-led taskforce to end rough sleeping.
Kevin Gulliver is Director of Birmingham-based research charity the Human City Institute, is former Chair of the Centre for Community Research, and part of the SHOUT save social housing campaign, but writes in a personal capacity.
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