Today’s much delayed government paper on social housing represents yet another missed opportunity to get to grips with London’s housing crisis.
Tucked away in this dense document are some tentative steps in the right direction. Increasing the powers of the independent regulator to maintain the quality of social housing is to be welcomed. And after relentless pressure from Labour boroughs like Lambeth, the government has finally abandoned plans to force councils to sell what ministers arbitrarily deemed as “high valued” council homes.
But these measures aside, the rest of the plan is thin gruel indeed.
The most glaring omission is that there is not a single extra penny to build more new council housing in the UK.
Local government, which has been on the end of a decade of brutal austerity, has already faced repeated reductions in funding for house building of all kinds which has exacerbated London’s housing crisis. According to Shelter, there are 1.2 million people on the UK’s housing waiting list; in Lambeth that number stands at 27,000, a figure that rises by 3,000 each year. These are often residents in overcrowded conditions, some in very vulnerable positions, that councils desperately need to be housed. This sits alongside the wider problems in our housing system that include a broken private rented sector marred by high rents and in some cases, poor standards, and rising housing prices that keep middle income earners off the housing ladder.
It would be fanciful to suggest that one Green Paper could have solved all of these problems.
But the government could have lifted the restrictive borrowing cap that prevents councils from building new homes.
They could have promised real extra funding ring fenced for new homes building.
And they could have signalled the beginning of real and sustained action to tackle the housing crisis.
But instead we have tinkering around the edges while the bigger problems are left unaddressed.
Despite the constraints placed on us, Lambeth is doing its best to combat the housing crisis. We are building 1,000 new homes at council rent levels, with 200 already completed. More than 23,000 homes have been upgraded since 2012 to improve their bathrooms and kitchens, as well as make them safe, secure and dry for their residents. We aim to bring another 5,000 up to this high standard in the next year. And we will continue to find new ways of working with partners to deliver genuinely affordable homes for Lambeth’s residents and take tough action to protect tenants in the private rented sector.
But what the UK, and especially London, need is a joined-up housing approach from central government with a focus on addressing the shortage of council homes. Sadly today was another missed opportunity.