By Eileen Short
Defend Council Housing – Homes for All
The struggle for a safe secure home, dominates life today. A desperate need for homes that meet need, not just make money, means growing support for radical new housing policies.
Jeremy Corbyn’s commitment to build new council housing was a major break in the Tory mould, that helped Labour win credibility and votes in the June 2017 election.
Corbyn’s own ten-point pre- election plan included a “secure homes guarantee”: to build one million new homes in five years, at least half of them council homes, along with rent controls and secure tenancies for private renters. Corbyn’s commitments inspired Labour supporters, and is what millions expect from Corbyn’s Labour.
The Labour Party’s manifesto in May 2017 did not quite match Corbyn’s. It made welcome commitments to scrap the Bedroom tax and suspend the Right to Buy. But the Manifesto rowed back on Corbyn’s commitment on new homes, pledging to “building at least 100,000 council and housing association homes a year for genuinely affordable rent or sale.”
This did not puncture growing confidence in Corbyn. Millions supported Labour to break with existing housing policy, and challenge the vested interests of developers, financiers and landlords. The rise of Momentum and a radical new left, and of independent housing campaigns, gives us the best chance in decades to halt the rapid slide into slumlord homes for the many, growing insecurity, and fat pickings for the few.
But Labour’s housing policy, and the practise of most Labour councils, is still based on deals with developers. This means housing decisions dictated by the profit margins of Lendlease, or the sales plans of deregulated housing associations.
At the Elephant and Castle in Southwark, the council demolished 1,100 council homes on the Heygate estate. A new development of 2,500 homes will include less than 70 replacement council homes. Yet Southwark is still pushing more demolitions.
In Tower Hamlets in east London the council proposes demolition of two blocks, to clear the way for private homes completely unaffordable to the majority of residents. In Haringey and Newham councils are pushing through large-scale clearance of council housing, driving out tenants to make way for the better-off (and less ethnically diverse).
These councils are all Labour controlled. No doubt they believe they are being practical, but their business-as-usual approach means more unaffordable homes. Some 90% of net new homes started in London during 2015/16 are unaffordable to most people, based on the London Plan monitoring report 2017 . It means higher proportions of declining incomes going in housing costs, with more people homeless, or in unfit, overcrowded and dangerous homes.
In Hounslow, in 2015/16 we got 16 new council and housing association homes at social rents, (plus 108 at the higher ‘intermediate’ rents without secure tenancies, and 88 with up to 80% market rents – misnamed as ‘affordable’ homes). This is what happens even when councils try to do their best, based on current procedures and funding.
That’s why we need change. The fight for safe secure homes, and justice for Grenfell, cannot be delegated to councillors or MPs. The pressure of independent grass roots organisation and direct action, linking tenants, trade unions, Labour supporters and others, is key. The anger over Grenfell, and the rising tide of housing resistance, is creating the best opportunity in decades to turn that possibility into action.
For that, we need to organise together, and demand action.
A ‘contemporary motion’ to Labour’s conference next week, calls on councils to end demolition of existing council homes. This will be debated and voted on if enough delegates choose it in the ‘priority ballot’ at the opening of conference.
To honour the needs of Grenfell survivors and the north Kensington community, requires a break with Tory politics. It requires radical action to take over empty homes, restore much-needed community and health services, and demand full government funding for fire safety and other housing work. Labour councils in London could lead councils across England to protest against Government housing policies and demand action on fire safety and security. But this won’t happen unless they are pressurised.
Defend Council Housing and the Homes for All – Axe the Act campaigns and Justice4Grenfell will march together in a housing bloc on the 1 October protest at Tory Party conference, to demand change. Come and join us – now is the time.
Please support these housing meetings at the Labour Party conference:
Justice for Grenfell – safe homes for all
Mon 25 September 5.30 (or after conference ends) with:
- Ken Loach, film maker
- Steve Turner, Unite union
- Saiqa Naz, Rochdale Save 7 Sisters blocks
- Emma Dent Coad, MP
- Eileen Short DCH
at Community Base, 113 Queens Rd, Brighton BN1 3XG
Demolition Watch London
Tue 26 October 6pm Royal Albion Hotel
35 Old Stein, Brighton BN1 1NT