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Southwark Labour are taking steps to tackle the housing crisis

07 September 2017

Tackling the housing crisis is one of the biggest challenges facing Labour in local government.  In London the crisis means high private rents with often poor standards, it means we have over 10,000 families on our council waiting list, and it means people who want to get on the housing ladder can’t do so, all the while evictions from private rented homes are climbing as some unscrupulous landlords jack up rents and force tenants out. The Tories don’t care about tackling this problem, so it is down to Labour councils and our Labour Mayor of London to do all we can whilst at the same time campaigning hard to make sure we get a Labour government, as without support from central government there will always be limits on what we can do.


Under the last Labour government there used to be support from central government for new affordable homes, for each new affordable home built there was on average a £120,000 grant towards the build costs. This was slashed by the Tories and Lib Dems in 2010 to an average of just £20,000 per new affordable home, as a result across the country affordable house building nose-dived. At the same time the Tories and Lib Dems nationally trashed the definition of affordable housing. Previously affordable rented homes were let at ‘social rents’ which are typically about 40% of market rents, but the government’s new ‘affordable rent’ homes can be anywhere up to 80% of market rents, making them unaffordable for many people.


In 2010 as these cuts came through Labour took control of Southwark Council. The existing council homes in the borough were in a very poor state of repair, with barely 50% meeting the decent homes standard. We immediately took action and have invested over £400m into our 55,000 council homes and now 93% meet the decent homes standard. We are now installing new kitchens and bathrooms to over 15,000 council properties, and investing in our blocks to make them fire safe in addition to the £62m we have spent on fire safety in our council homes since 2010.  We’ve also made progress in improving repairs and have brought the call centre back in house, but there is still more to do.


Because we are passionate advocates for social housing and believe that everybody should have the right to a decent home we are doing all we can to improve our existing social housing and to build more social housing. Our planning policies in Southwark state that we want 35% affordable housing from developers on sites that deliver 10 or more homes. We have stuck to the previous definition of affordable rented homes being at social rents, the average social rent for a 2-bedroom flat in Southwark is around £130 per week. In some limited cases we have accepted some affordable rented homes with higher rents but we have capped those at the Local Housing Allowance which means that people can still afford them with support from housing benefit. We have also limited these to 1 and 2 bedroom homes rather than family sized 3-4 bedroom homes.


In Southwark we have a good track record of securing new affordable homes from developers. On housing schemes with 10 or more homes (which is the number our 35% affordable policy begins) between 2011/12 and 2015/16 on average we approved 30% affordable homes, made up of 2,873 new social rent homes, 1,748 new intermediate/shared ownership homes, and 346 affordable rent homes. For affordable homes actually built between 2011/12 and 2015/16 on schemes with 10 or more homes the figure is 42%, made up of 1,513 new social rent homes, 778 intermediate/shared ownership homes, and 201 affordable rent homes.


Some of these new homes have been built on sites where there used to be just social housing in poorly constructed and badly designed post-war blocks. By taking into account the homes that were on these sites and subtracting them from the total affordable housing listed above we would have still seen an increase in the amount of all types of affordable housing in our borough. The total ‘net’ figures are an additional 798 social rented homes and 779 intermediate/shared ownership homes over those 5 years. The reason why there has not been an increase in the amount of social rent in Southwark despite all of our work is the impact of the Right to Buy over which we have no control. The Tories and Lib Dems in government increased the discount for Right to Buy from £16,000 to £100,000 per home. In the last five years we have lost 1,171 council homes through Right to Buy which is four times as many in the five years before (292 homes lost).


In addition to the new affordable homes we secure from developers we also have our own council home build programme. This is the most ambitious council home building programme for any council in a generation - we will build 11,000 new council homes over the next 25 years and have already completed the first 357, our local lettings policy means that at least 50% of our new council homes are for local tenants on band 1-3 of the housing allocations list. With no support from the Tory government we have done the best we can, but to deliver enough affordable homes for our residents we need a Labour government which will give us the support we need to build the homes our residents need.



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