HUNDREDS of Londoners, many of them tenants in council estates threatened with demolition, took to the streets on Saturday 18th June. They marched through London from Hyde Park Corner to Trafalgar Square to call for the axing of the Housing Act passed last month.
Shelter has predicted that councils and housing associations could to be forced to sell up to 40 per cent of their homes. Tenants will also be punished for doing well through the Tenant’s Tax forcing rent increases for households earning over £40,000.
The Act has left Parliament with many issues relating to its practical implementation still to be resolved. The role of local councils, housing associations and landlords will be critical as the Government tries to force them to do its dirty work of breaking up council estates and ending the supply of housing that low-income workers in the capital can afford.
This is why activists are continuing to campaign at a local level, to build a broad alliance of opposition uniting tenants from all tenures (council, housing association and private) with trade unions, housing activists, housing workers and politicians who support their aims. Together we can make the Housing Act this government’s Poll Tax.
The group they have formed is called Axe the Housing Act and is supported by Defend Council Housing, Radical Housing Network, Generation Rent, tenant groups, Unison, GMB, CWU, Bakers and NUT trades unions, Unite Housing Workers, London Gypsy Traveller Unit, National Bargee Travellers Association, the Green Party, John McDonnell MP, Peoples Assembly, Momentum and more.
They say: “The views of tenants, academics, faith leaders, lawyers, trade unions and many politicians are being ignored and on 12th May the Act became law.
“But there will be a 12-month implementation period and some aspects of the legislation will have to go back to Parliament. We said from the start it could not be ‘improved’, it had to be scrapped. That remains our position.”
The Act will significantly reduce the genuinely affordable housing and will trap the five million people on housing waiting lists and the many more in housing need, including those in sub-standard, unaffordable private renting.
The Government claims the Act will lead to building one million new homes. But it’s using public money to subsidise private developers to build 200,000 Starter Homes for sale on new developments, meaning even fewer homes for “social rent”.
Council homes defined as ‘higher value’ will be sold-off into the private market when they become empty, instead of providing homes for the thousands on waiting lists. The money from sell-offs, or an equivalent “levy”, will be paid to Government and used to refund Housing Associations which provide discounts for extending right-to-buy to some tenants.
Shelter estimates that 23,500 council homes a year could be lost and councils asked to pay an average of £26 million a year each to pay for right-to-buy discounts – a total cost of £4.5 billion annually. This money will be taken from cash-strapped council housing departments – already cutting services as the result of government-imposed rent cuts – and paid to private-sector Housing Associations which currently have total surpluses of £3 billion.
Lifetime secure tenancies will be ended and there is still uncertainty about what will happen to the council tenancies of women forced to leave their homes because of domestic violence or to other vulnerable people.
The right for secure tenancies to be passed on to children will be ended.
The strength of council housing lies in settled, diverse, strong communities where people, whatever their income, can plan their lives, go to work and care for their families based on the stability of a secure tenancy.
The Government wants to end this and to redefine council housing as temporary, “emergency” shelter where social problems and inequality become concentrated as they are in the US “projects”. They want to push future generations into the private rented sector and destabilise council estates so they’re easier to privatise.