Labour housing green paper: a gift to housing associations and other rentiers

Labour’s 19th April green paper Housing for the Many congratulates housing associations on the ‘social purpose at their core’ and on the fact that 12% of their 2016 new builds was social housing. It commiserates with their 75% funding cuts, ‘forcing sell off of stock’ and greater financial risk. It even believes that HAs cross-subsidise, ‘using surpluses from houses built for sale and market rent to fund new affordable homes.’

In fact the green paper proposes gifting private HAs public money ‘to lower the cost of finance for housing associations and others, including with new affordable housing borrowing guarantees and housing association access to Public Works Loan Board finance. We will encourage long-term investors such as pension funds.’

Along with criticism of Tory ‘affordable housing’ goes the use of ‘affordable’ interchangeably, bizarrely, with ‘genuinely affordable’ and ‘social housing’ throughout, while also promising to end forced conversion to affordable rents.

It brackets HAs with rebooted council housing departments as providers of affordable and/or genuinely affordable and/or social housing. It endorses HA partnership agreements with councils but doesn’t promise to repeal the 2016 Housing and Planning Act which enables HAs to rule-change social housing provision more or less out of existence. It suggests prohibiting HA for-profit activities but doesn’t detail implementation. It doesn’t promise returning local authority representation to HA boards.

New rent setting proposals are apparently lifted from Sadiq Khan’s London Housing Strategy. Rents on social housing would be set by a ‘mix of local income, property values and the size of the property’: not great for city dwellers where incomes and property values are skewed by the very wealthy. A living rent category would be priced at 30% of income, and low cost ownership at the same level. Social rents are therefore tied to property values and 30% of any middle or low income is too high. The proposed low cost ownership includes shared ownership, now known to include mis-sold mortgages, to trap people in unsaleable homes and, worst case, to result in eviction.

Right to buy, which cancels out any new public housing provision, wouldn’t be scrapped like it has been in Scotland. It would be suspended.

A land value tax would have begun to shift public housing funding away from income tax towards a tax on rentiers’ assets. Nowhere is it mentioned. The selling of ‘surplus’ public land to the private sector is accepted. The proposed lifting of the council housing borrowing cap is already under discussion by the Tory government.

Shadow secretary of state for housing John Healey, with Jeremy Corbyn’s backing, hasn’t grasped how crucial land and housing are to the economy in general, where asset bubbles engineered by the elite over the last 40 years divide us into haves and have–nots. Nor has he moved Labour policy one centimetre away from the private public partnership which is already killing public housing off.

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