Labour’s housing future – no need to shift the furniture

On housing, Corbyn took Labour closer to its natural home.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn Speech

 

Ahead of the election, Labour released a ‘real change’ housing manifesto putting all the party’s housing policies under one roof.

Will a new Labour leader ‘re-arrange the furniture’ on moving in?

It’s worth considering where Corbyn took Labour on housing – closer, perhaps, to its natural home.

So rather than rush to judgement, Corbyn’s successor should think on “fully furnished” with 2015 too soon to be ditched as ‘retro’.

Elected as leader, Corbyn said a house should be “a source of security” but that for too many, it is “a cause of anxiety.”

There’s something to build on.

And not so far from that “gap between the housing haves and have-nots” John Healey cited as at the heart of the injustice in the UK.

And don’t forget, that in 2015 Corbyn was as critical of past Labour governments on housebuilding as he was of Tories.

That 2015 commitment to council housebuilding is a sure foundation.

Then, Corbyn spoke of it being “essential” for councils to build if housing demand was to be met beyond a “free-market free-for-all”.

The big idea was a National Investment Bank backing new build housing projects with low interest rates, both by councils and developers as long as tough new conditions were met on the proportion of genuinely affordable housing built.

That principle is reinforced shored up by this year’s plan for at least 150,000 new council and housing association homes a year within five years – with 100,000 new council homes a year for social rent.

Lifting the HRA borrowing cap is done, but there’s still the principle of PRS reform for a successor to shore.

Tory commitment to reform will be tested by the response of landlord bodies.

And here’s doubt about the extent of the new government’s actual commitment to reform anyway

Though the election result is seen as a rejection of rent controls, a successor would be wise to link lower rents with policy.

Because the issues haven’t shifted far from those of 2015.

Then, the new Labour leader was about bringing rents down to take up a lower proportion of people’s income, and – given that many  were likely to renting for longer – ensuring tenants had the right to a longer tenancy.

Throw in private landlords as nationally registered and locally licensed and the enforcing of decent homes standards at council level and policy hasn’t shifted so far from 2015.

The ‘one roof’ manifesto pitched year-one legislation with new rights for renters, including indefinite tenancies, rent controls, and strong enforcement of decent property standards.

In 2015, stopping ‘buy-to-let’ deals meant councils having the option of levying higher council tax rates or a new tax on properties left empty.

And that came with the idea of a ban on property ownership by non-UK based entities or by companies and offshore trusts altogether.

Again, a successor could stake out clear ground on this – while gaining ground on the Tory “if you don’t own, you’re owned” mentality.

In 2015, Corbyn suggested a “a range of measures” available to bring down house prices, “including building more housing overall, restricting subsidies to buy to let landlords, and regulating rental value.

Then, as now, and almost certainly over the near future, one of the biggest pressures facing first-time buyers is saving for a deposit.

In 2015, the principle applied to schemes such as rent-to-own or shared equity.

But the 2015 Corbyn wasn’t sold on Right to Buy saying councils in areas of high housing stress should be given the power to suspend RtB to protect depleting social housing assets.

Back then, he was talking about re-directing some of the £14bn in tax relief received by private landlords to help struggling private tenants, seeing potential in some of this money funding a form of right-to-buy shared equity scheme to private tenants in cases when they are renting from large-scale landlords.

In those principles there’s still scope to tackle Tory ownership obsessions head on with the ‘one roof’ manifesto outlining a new programme of homes for first-time buyers discounted with prices linked to local incomes, ‘first dibs’ for local people on new homes built in their area, action to stabilise house price inflation, and an end to the leasehold scandal.

Stung by the ‘buzzword’ affordable, the 2015 Corbyn doubled-down on Tory “doublespeak” where social rents in high-demand areas are typically a third to half the market rate, while so-called ‘affordable’ rents are up to 80% of private rents.”

Nor was he sold on the subsequently ditched Pay to Stay policy.

The Corbyn of 2015 believed more regulation was needed for housing associations saying: “There is a problem with housing associations.

“Initially set up to provide decent homes for people in need, many are developing into businesses that sell or rent at market levels.

We need more democracy and accountability, and a return to their original purpose.”

Familiar?

The ‘one roof’ manifesto had land policy opening up an opaque land market, stopping the “fire-sale” of public land and legislating for a new English Sovereign Land Trust to work with councils looking to buy land more cheaply.

In 2015 Corbyn was already talking of a Land Value Tax on undeveloped land that has planning permission, and ‘use it or lose it’ measures on brownfield sites, to act as a disincentive to land banking and to raise public funds for house-building.

He wanted councils allowed to compulsorily purchase (CPO) sites at a fair value if their owners are not developing them – with public land transferred to councils to build council housing to meet local need.

That channels into the mainstream.

One roof ran a retrofit programme pitched as an upgrade for millions of homes backed by a new zero-carbon homes standard – introduced within three years.

In 2015 Corbyn was talking of councils getting greater freedoms to drive a shift in environmental standards  – with zero carbon homes as the norm.

But it is on the social issues relating to housing that a successor should not shift.

If, in 2015, Corbyn was calling out welfare reform as “causing the social cleansing of many cities”, his successor can still hurl rising homelessness and crippling temporary accommodation numbers at government in the expectation of an evasive – if not dismissive – response.

Tories don’t care will be just as powerful a mantra going into the 2020s – because Tories do so little to counter it.

One roof committed Labour to ending rough sleeping within five years with scope for wider action to tackle the causes of homelessness, with new hostel places, more homes for the homeless, additional funding for key council services, and ensuring local housing allowance covers the cost of renting.

On homelessness, the Tories give every appearance of throwing only the money they feel they have to at those a strong element of the party still see as “in the way when you step out of the Opera”.

Then… Grenfell.

The disaster has come to define the past, present and future of social housing in the UK.

Corbyn’s successor has to stay with the £1bn safety fund and enforcing the replacement of dangerous cladding on all high-rise and high-risk homes.

At the same time, policy needs to stay on top of the second phase of the Grenfell Inquiry and related criminal investigations to ensure the disaster does not become another Hillsborough.

No need to shift the furniture then.

For now, Corbyn’s successor should get comfortable with what they’ve got.

In the knowledge that measuring up for Downing Street is some way out of reach…

 

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