LETTER: Housing crisis is set to get worse

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The County Times recently reported that the house building boom has resulted in 900 new properties being built in Horsham District in the financial year 2014/2015 and more than a thousand are to be built in each of the next three years. (‘District housing boom continues’, Jan 28 2016).

What this article did not tell us is how many of these homes will be accessible to those who find house prices and rents in the private sector far beyond their reach. The answer to this question is that there will be very few.

Horsham Labour Party has persistently called upon the Horsham District Council to ensure that adequate provision of decent, affordable housing is made for all Horsham residents, particularly those who work in the local economy who, faced with the increasingly unaffordable housing costs, struggle to meet their housing needs.

The council has not responded with overwhelming enthusiasm to our campaign. Section 106 agreements have delivered some affordable homes but at nowhere near the rate required to meet local need.

The Tory council’s failure to adequately address local housing need has exacerbated a local housing crisis. There is a severe risk that if the Tory Government’s Housing and Planning Bill, currently making its way through parliament, is enacted it will make the crisis a whole lot worse.

Section 106 agreements will no longer promote the development of much needed social housing. Instead councils will promote the building of starter homes on new development sites.

These will be available for sale to eligible first-time buyers at a taxpayer subsidised discount of 20 per cent of the market price. To anyone who has reviewed local house prices it is evident that this is unlikely to benefit anyone currently struggling to find a home they can afford.

New build homes are invariably sold at a premium, this can be a price up to 20 per cent higher than an equivalent pre-owned property. The only beneficiaries will be developers and those already able to afford a home.

Not only will less new social housing be delivered as a result of this change to planning, the stock of existing homes will be depleted due to the extension of the Right to Buy to housing association tenants.

The Bill proposes that the replacement of lost stock should be funded by the sale of high value council houses as they become vacant.

In Horsham there is no council stock to be sold so it is unclear how the levels of much needed social housing stock will be maintained.

At the same time as offering nothing to those in need of a genuinely affordable home, the Tories’ Housing Bill offers much to be concerned about for those currently living in social housing.

The government intends to introduce five-year tenancies for social housing tenants, so ending the security of tenure that enabled the development of strong communities where people could establish their homes and families.

And for those tenants deemed to have a high household income, i.e. over £30,000 per annum, the Bill has a ‘Pay to Stay’ proposal.

This will see the tenant’s housing costs increase from an affordable or social level up to an unaffordable 80 per cent of market rent.

As one housing journalist recently put it, with this Bill ‘this government appears bent on undermining a once-cherished ideal: a decent home for everyone across all tenures regardless of income and circumstance’.

If the Bill is enacted the rates of homelessness will increase as fewer affordable homes are available for the increasing numbers of people who find themselves unable to meet their housing costs.

We are already seeing the signs of the rapidly worsening crisis in Horsham where, in the middle of winter, tents provide the only shelter available for those that the council does not regard as in priority need of housing.

Horsham Labour Party supports the campaign to stop the Bill from being enacted. Anyone who would also like to support the campaign should sign the petition at

https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/stop-the-housing-billhe

CAROL HAYTON

Horsham Labour Party, Clarence Road, Horsham

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