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“Height of insanity”

Even Tory Boris doubts right-to-buy
Hajera Blagg, Friday, May 29th, 2015

The Tories’ latest right-to-buy housing scheme will spell disaster for London’s already beleaguered housing market.

A key part of the Conservative manifesto, extending right-to-buy to housing association tenants was confirmed in the Queen’s speech on Wednesday (May 27).

But a new report commissioned by four London councils published yesterday (May 28) suggests that hardly anyone living in one of the world’s most expensive cities—where rent prices have skyrocketed by more than 8 per cent in the last year alone—will stand to benefit from the latest scheme, and most will, in fact, be worse off.

Under pressure

Extending right-to-buy to housing association tenants will, the Tory plan goes, be funded by local government authorities being forced to sell off their high-value council homes.

But this decimation of council housing stock, the analysis by Liverpool Economics found, will in turn put the private rental market under greater pressure, leading to even further increases in rents.

As it stands already, London rents have reached absurd levels, as this recent list of outrageously priced tiny flats in the city reveals.

“The report underlines that there would be a big question mark over the Government’s promise that the homes would be replaced,” said Islington Council executive member for housing James Murray.

“We’ll see a fall in the number of council lettings, which in turn will push up private rents even further, particularly in outer London boroughs.”

“This report seems to confirm what we feared – that the Government’s policy is wrong for London, both socially and economically, and will make our grave housing crisis even worse,” he added.


Council housing waiting lists are notoriously long in London – at the end of last year, more than a quarter of a million people languished on these lists.

But if the Tories’ new right-to-buy scheme goes through, the number of people having to wait for a council home will skyrocket even more, and hit the most vulnerable the hardest.

In the four councils analysed in the report—Haringey, Enfield, Islington and Camden—almost 400 homeless households would not be able to access council housing in the first two years of the right-to-buy scheme. A further 579 families with children will be unable to get a council home in the four boroughs, and an additional 615 families with general needs will likewise be affected.

“There is therefore a strong likelihood of an increase in the requirement for temporary accommodation,” the report noted.

As UniteLive reported last year, living in temporary accommodation can have devastating effects, especially on children, many of whom have reported panic attacks, depression and self-harm as a direct result of living in insecure housing.

Most of these families living in temporary accommodation live together in one room and must share a bathroom and a kitchen with strangers, a survey found. Some were even forced to eat off the floor because living space was so cramped.

Even Tory London mayor Boris Johnson recently called Cameron’s latest right-to-buy extension plans “the height of insanity”.

Insane may be the most precise word to describe many of the unintended consequences of the scheme that the report highlighted.

Among the “number of complications” arising from extending right-to-buy to housing association tenants is the process of building replacement homes from sold off council housing stock.

It’s not just that the Tories’ record under their previous Right to Buy scheme has been notoriously poor. The report notes that even if the government did make good on its promise to rebuild a home for every home sold off, there would be a two-year lag, since replacement homes would take time to build.

Property sales are expected to fund the entire scheme in theory – they will purportedly pay for compensating housing associations for the loss of their assets, go towards rebuilding homes and will also be poured into a brownfield fund to aid in building additional housing on previously used land.

The report however, contends that property sales alone will come nowhere near to covering all these costs. For local authorities to rebuild homes, they would likely have to borrow substantially.

What’s more, many of the replacement homes would have to be built outside their respective boroughs, meaning that, as the report notes, “there is also likely to be a reduction in the flow of new vacancies in council homes as people remain in overcrowded or under-occupied accommodation rather than disrupt their support network.”

Councils will therefore have to buy land in other boroughs to let to their own tenants, or they would have to transfer funds to other authorities or housing associations.

Big mess

The big mess that is the Tories’ new housing policy prompted Unite assistant general secretary Steve Turner to call the scheme “illiterate”.

“How can a government compel housing associations to sell assets which are not state properties? Turner noted. “And how does selling more affordable housing association homes do anything to help the 9m in the private rented sector or the millions more who do not even have a home?”

Unite national officer Sally Kosky, who represents housing workers, argued that the root of the problem to the housing crisis – and the answer that would remedy it – was clear.

“Ordinary people are being forced out of their communities by high prices and speculation,” she said. “We need public sector investment in new council house building on a massive scale and security of tenure for all those living in rented accommodation.”





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