A very real housing crisis

By - Thursday 9th February, 2017

Labour’s Deputy Leader of Croydon Council raises the root causes behind homelessness, and what’s being done about them

Homes, homes, homes – a bit of a buzzword at the moment, with the government pledging different amounts of money for different things, or sometimes the same money for different things. However, what is lacking is the withdrawal of polices which are doing so much harm in Croydon today. The war against social housing has sometimes been loud, but on other occasions much more silent, regulations introduced with little fanfare but devastating consequences to those that cannot afford a home.

Without a doubt, lack of housing supply is the biggest issue, one that the current and previous governments have failed to tackle. But, for the most vulnerable and those on the lowest incomes, government policy has made things so much worse and Croydon’s ‘hidden homeless’ – those placed by the council in emergency and temporary accommodation – are the people paying the price. Thousands of Croydon children are growing up without a place they can really call home and this cannot be right.

Croydon has over 2,500 households in temporary accommodation and over 800 of these are in nightly paid accommodation – the biggest cause of homelessness in this borough is eviction from the private rented sector. Where people have difficulty paying the high rents demanded due to their income, they can claim Local Housing Allowance (LHA) to pay or top up their rent. In Croydon this is currently set by the government at £300pm below the average rent. This immediately puts these families at a huge disadvantage, and on top of this the government has frozen LHA for four years. This means maximum LHA rates will stay the same until April 2020 even if rents in an area increase. If these families are in trouble now, they will be beyond a crisis by 2020.

All this good work can be undone by Gavin Barwell’s pledge to force councils to sell-off their ‘high value’ voids in order to fund other government policies

Then take into account the benefit cap, now set at £23,000 per year for a family in Croydon. Some would argue that this is fair, but it simply doesn’t take into account the cost of rent in a London borough. In Croydon 600 households on housing benefit have been capped with an average loss is £74 pw to their income, many are losing much more. Another 445 families who receive Universal Credit have also been capped.

Croydon is doing its bit to tackle the crisis by setting up our housing company Brick by Brick (BxB). BxB is currently in the process of bringing forward a range of small sites which will result in 50% of these homes being affordable for local people. But all this good work can be undone by Gavin Barwell’s pledge to force councils to sell-off their ‘high value’ voids in order to fund other government policies. Croydon, like all other boroughs, has a turnover in its housing stock. If we were forced to sell off homes of the highest value, these would not be swanky apartments but those family homes so desperately needed by those most vulnerable people on our housing waiting list. How can this policy possibly make sense?

Croydon is also leading the way on the campaign to change regulations under Universal Credit (UC), a benefit that all acknowledge is taking far too long to pay out, leaving claimants and families in a spiral of debt. The six-week rule for paying housing costs is simply perverse and either encourages longer stays in B&Bs or leaves the council, therefore the tax payer, picking up the cost. In all boroughs where UC has been introduced, rent arrears have risen dramatically.

Homelessness costs this council at least £5m a year, and the human cost is so much more

Croydon has also introduced its People’s Gateway Service, a new way of looking at those at risk of losing their home and doing everything that can be done to prevent this happening – the best option for everyone. In addition, the council has bid for and won £1.4m in extra funding to fight homelessness. These are however for additional services, and homelessness currently costs this council at least £5m a year. The human cost is so much more.

Croydon’s Labour council sees the need for new homes in every sector, council and social housing, good quality privately rented homes, homes for Croydon families to buy and settle down in. Homes for those stuck at home with mum and dad, homes for those who work hard but cannot afford the rent.

We still await the government’s clarification on ‘starter homes’ – discounted homes are of course welcomed but the suggestion by government that a home at the cost of £450,000 is affordable, and that the scheme can replace shared ownership or social rent, will make Croydon’s situation worse not better.

Some understandably fear the change new homes might bring, but sometimes we all need to walk in somebody else’s shoes

In Croydon, we know there are many great landlords and they add to our housing options in this borough, providing homes for those who chose or have no option but to rent in the private sector. But too many of our children are living in damp, poorly kept and unfit accommodation and for these children it is not only about the place they call home, it is about their health, their aspirations, their education and their futures. That is why we have introduced a Landlords’ Licensing Scheme across our borough, to ensure that our children live in safe accommodation they can call home.

If the home you are renting has issues or if you are worried about a property in your street, you can check if it is licensed at www.croydon.gov.uk/betterplacetorent and then report any unlicensed property. If your concerns relate to unsuitable accommodation in outbuildings, insufficient refuse & recycling facilities, noise which is unreasonable, untidy gardens, including dumped furniture, poorly maintained properties, anti-social behaviour by tenants or landlords or overcrowded properties please contact our team at .

Lastly, I would touch on our need for new homes. Although more and more residents feel that too many families do not have a place to call home and this cannot be right, others understandably fear the change new homes might bring. Sometimes we all need to walk in somebody else’s shoes, give a thought to Croydon’s hidden homeless families and those sleeping rough on our streets.

So if this government and Gavin Barwell, the Minister for Housing, are even remotely serious about tackling Croydon’s housing crisis, they must address some of their policies which are helping to create it.

Alison Butler

Alison Butler

Alison Butler is Deputy Leader of Croydon Council and Cabinet Member for Homes, Regeneration and Planning. She is a Labour councillor for Bensham Manor Ward in Croydon North and is committed in her brief to tackling the housing crisis and working with residents to deliver the homes and regeneration our town desperately need.

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  • Mike

    Alison can chastise the government for what she considers their crazy policy of reducing borrowing (too little too late) but what have Croydon council done. They brought in the landlord tax, aka Landlord license, which has driven landlords away from investing in Croydon and is pushing up the cost of housing on tenants.

    More importantly the tax grab from landlords (on top of everything that Odious Osborne already brought in) is reducing landlord demand for new housing – so supply will be reduced.

    Well done Labour-run Croydon council for another policy that hurts the poor in order to provide more money to the overstaffed bloated council.

    • David White

      I wonder if Mike (an anonymous person I note) would like regulation removed from other areas? Food safety standards could be binned to save money. Why bother to have regulatory bodies for solicitors, barristers, financial advisers etc? And obviously rented housing, which only provides a home and environment for thousands of people in Croydon, can be left to the unchecked ravages of the market.

    • RSDavies

      Having attended a large number of public consultations on planning for the future Croydon, I have come to the conclusion that a very influential element in Croydon don’t much like the present and certainly don’t want to achievable and desirable future. There is an obsession with preserving the past.
      It’s not peculiar to Croydon, it is an oddly British thing and I suspect has much to do with the challenges of industrialisation and social change in the 19th century and the response by the various elites.
      Successive political decisions have virtually eliminated local authorities as creators and providers of affordable housing. The private corporations and even housing associations have yet to demonstrate they can deliver anything like the volume of housing required. And the individual private landlord simply profits from the shortage of housing and public subsidy, having no significant capacity to increase supply.
      If Croydon is to be a sustainable community then it needs to be able to provide housing at an affordable price and in sufficient quantity to create a degree of oversupply. This would stabilise and to some degree suppress wage inflation and make it easier for companies to employ people across all classes. There is no point paying the London Living Wage to workers if all that happens is that rents increase to consume any benefit. Sustainability also means social cohesion, and if the people at the bottom of society are not cared for so they can afford food, clothing and shelter; then these people have no reason to care for society. (Is it actually morally different to take a family’s entire income in rent than to mug them for what’s in their pockets at any given time? ) If a significant section of society have little buy-in, then that is a recipe for crime and riot.
      While we talk on one occasion about housing and then on another about education, we tend to forget that all social factors are interlinked. If a secondary schoolchild lives in over-crowded sub-standard accommodation, they are unlikely to enjoy the luxury of their own bedroom and a place to quietly do their homework. They may not even have a bedroom, but sleep on the sofa in the living room endlessly negotiating with the other members of the household for space. This child is inherently condemned to under-achievement and probably destined to be at the bottom society. Their potential is unrealised and we are the losers ultimately.
      We need a robust debate about housing and other social needs where the propertied interest groups are challenged about what they want. If those with property in Croydon don’t want a sustainable community, so be it. But if that’s what they want then they must take responsibility for the consequences of their decision.

  • Ian Marvin

    It’s an important facet of community building to be able to provide stable accommodation accross the various sectors and my belief is that mixed tenure types in all areas should be an aspiration. My understanding is that the ceiling for eligibility for starter homes is £90k which is at least three times the average household income in Croydon as far as I can make out.

  • Mike

    To reduce the shortage of affordable houses we need more houses. That means building more. Everything should be geared towards creating the right conditions to incentivize builders to build. The extra supply will lead to lower prices.

    Schemes that are designed to create more affordable housing fail because they increase the barriers to building houses.

    The only way to get more housing is to remove the excessive community levies and landlord scheme tax, simplify planning consent and make more land available.

    Demonising landlords and layering on extra Croydon taxes might please the class war brigade, but just moves investment out of the borough.