Somewhere to call home

By - Tuesday 11th March, 2014

Tony Newman, leader of Croydon Labour’s council group, assesses the state of Croydon’s housing bill

Original photo by Ian Sane. Image modified and used under Creative Commons Licence.

Twenty five years ago, more than eighty percent of the public funding for housing went into bricks and mortar. In other words, actually building new homes for people to live in. Today, tragically, more than eighty percent of that funding now pays for the housing benefit bill. That’s a bill that often goes towards keep people living in sub-standard and overcrowded accommodation.

Something has to change. Croydon, London and other areas of high demand are facing a shortage of new affordable homes to either buy or rent. The average age of a first time buyer has now gone past thirty years of age and is heading for forty. For many people, even those with a job and an above average income, the dream of owning a home is fading first.

So what is to be done? Well, with an ever growing dependence on the private rented sector this needs to be reformed and become an attractive alternative to home ownership, as it is in many other parts of Europe, rather than being seen as the last resort.

Letting agents must not be allowed to trade without formal qualifications

Local government should be given greater powers to license landlords, to ensure we can work with the best and drive those rogue and criminal landlords (who exploit others) out of the business.

Lettings agents are another area where reform must happen. On behalf of local government I recently gave evidence to a parliamentary select committee on the scandal of too many letting agencies that charge duplicate fees to both landlords and tenants, refuse to return deposits, charge inflated so-called introductory fees and much more.

This behaviour, by a significant minority, is completely unacceptable and must end. Even estate agents are not allowed to trade without some formal qualifications and letting agents must follow suit.

We also need to see a move away from six month tenancies to three or five year secure tenancies, so people can plan ahead or know what local school their children will be able to attend for a number of years, rather than months. Too many families have to move from property to property, causing disruption to children’s education. GPs and childcare have to change, journeys to work can become more difficult and there is the inevitable cost associated with a move often affecting those on the lowest of incomes.

An incoming Labour council in May is committed to a target of thirty percent of new housing to be affordable to either buy or rent

There need to be incentives to encourage landlords to move towards longer tenancies. Having longer term secure tenants can be a real benefit to landlords, rather than a high turnover of people who feel they have no stake in either the property itself or the community they are living in.

Finally, we must act to ensure home ownership is again an aspiration that those on modest incomes can achieve. That is why our housing spokesperson in Croydon, Councillor Alison Butler, has rightly committed an incoming Labour council in May to a target of thirty percent of new housing to be affordable to either buy or rent. The current Conservative council claims that anything above ten percent is unachievable. In my view, this betrays local people, shows a lack of ambition and is caving in to the demands of developers.

Labour’s manifesto for the forthcoming council elections is titled ‘Ambitious for Croydon’, and ambitious is what we are. Our key message is that we want to see all the people of Croydon benefit from the future investment coming to our town. So, a Labour council will see new affordable housing to both buy and rent, local companies given a fair chance to bid for building contracts, and all developers committed to offering training and apprenticeship opportunities to Croydon residents.

Croydon has a housing crisis in terms of lack of supply. However, clear interventions now to improve the private rented sector and a genuine partnership between developers and the Town Hall to build homes locally that people both want and can afford, can I firmly believe, change things for the better. Let’s get on with it.

Tony Newman

Tony Newman

Councillor Tony Newman is currently the Leader of the Council in the Town Hall, and Labour local government's national spokesperson on housing. Tony was a member of the previous government's home ownership task force, and has given evidence to a number of parliamentary committees on housing policy. He also served as Council leader from 2005 - 2006, was deputy chair of the Association of London Government from 2002-2005, and is currently a member of the Housing and Environment Board at the Local Government Association.

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