The local housing market is broken. The Tories don’t have a plan to fix it

13113725393_bb9824efda_o

Speech to Wandsworth Council, Wednesday March 4, 2015 

The housing market is broken. This council does not have a plan to fix it.

The housing crisis is hurting families and it’s hurting renters.

This council can’t solve the crisis. It puts property developers ahead of the public interest and has turned its back on people who have regular incomes.

Wandsworth is a great place to raise a family. But is has become a tough place to raise a family.

* Rent on the average 4-bed house went up 32% in the last two years.

* The Sunday Times reports that in Wandsworth the difference in price between a 3-bed home and a 4-bed home is £419,000 – the highest gap in the country.

*  Childcare costs more than £10,000 per year per child.

I don’t know a single local family who thinks they will get to live in the new Nine Elms flats. Just three of the first 2,400 flats to be built on the Battersea Power Station site are affordable, family-sized homes Continue reading

Wandsworth’s Housing Offer: A homeless crisis, unfair rents & favours for developers

Speech to Wandsworth Council, 28 January 2015

This paper covers council rents, money to tackle the homelessness crisis and elements of councillor Govindia’s new housing strategy. There are positive and negative sides to each.

On council rents, the average increase this year will be 2.2%. This is fair – but in reality almost no one will actually pay it.

Sometimes you just have to look at a policy and apply a common sense check. 10,000 of our tenants will get less than £1 a week rent rise but 3,500 households on historically lower rents will get more than £8 a week rent rise, with almost nothing in between.

1,300 of the families facing an extra £400 in rent next year receive no housing benefit at all. We know most of these will be older people: some too proud to claim, others working for minimum wage.

In terms of the number of people affected and financial impact this is comparable to the Bedroom Tax. The council is taking an unnecessary risk.

Wandsworth has yet to get to grips with its homelessness crisis. It should be praised for committing to spend £20m on temporary accommodation. It’s about time.

Unfortunately it’s too little and it’s too late.

The new properties bought with the £20m will almost all be outside Wandsworth.

I wrote to the council about a Tooting mother who became homeless with her three children after a difficult family situation. She works and studies locally but the council made a final offer that she should move to a private rented home in West Bromwich, 100 miles from her friends and her children’s school.

When she said the property was unsuitable, the council responded with an eviction notice. This behaviour damages the reputation of the council.

Wandsworth has been condemned by Sandwell Council’s leader for treating people “like cattle” and moving them around the country to cut costs.

Continue reading

It’s time to get serious about Wandsworth’s homeless crisis

Speech to Wandsworth Council

Wandsworth faces a growing homelessness crisis. Last year 613 homeless households were in council temporary accommodation, that had risen to 791 at the start of this year and is predicted to reach 916 by the end of the year.

Local rents went up an average of 14 per cent last year. With pay freezes and housing benefit cuts, many local families can’t keep up.

All it takes is an illness or relationship break-up for families to get trapped in a downward spiral of debt. For too many local people this ends with homelessness.

The main cause of the crisis is eviction by private landlords. This led to 13pc of homeless cases in 2010 but had risen to 53pc by last year.

The homelessness crisis hits families hardest. In 2010, only five homelessness families qualified for four-bed homes, last year it was 68 families. This week’s Wandsworth Guardian has a report on local homeless families who will be moved outside the borough.

More and more homeless families have to be housed in temporary accommodation, in particular dingy Bed & Breakfasts.

I’ve seen how homelessness affects children in Putney, Battersea and Tooting. School runs that take two hours. Fights within families sharing one cramped room. The symptoms of depression. Continue reading

Winstanley Estate regeneration: 10 problems – and how we can make it a success

(Speech to Wandsworth council, December 2013 – starts at 31.30mins)

I think this crucial regeneration project has begun well, thanks to hard work by staff and consultants, co-operation between political parties and, crucially, engagement from local people. Who have, so far, backed the most bold option put in front of them.

It is a mighty challenge now for the council to sell the benefits of potentially demolishing 700 homes and replacing them with around 2,000 new homes – perhaps a billion pounds of new housing – on that estate.

Continue reading

Wrong, harmful and costly: Wandsworth’s reckless housing cuts

(Speech from Oct 16, 2013 – starts at 12 mins in the above video)

I think housing is the biggest challenge that faces this council.

It’s an issue that affects every one of us.

Young renters moving through a series of expensive, short-term flats. Parents struggling to fund their children – from the ‘Bank of Mom & Dad’. The homeless families with their lives in ruins.

Local house prices are now 13 times local salaries. Private rents up 14pc in a year. Wandsworth is living through a housing crisis.

As councillor Thomas skilfully outlined, a series of welfare reforms are hitting our poorest residents. And this impact is about to get worse.

Housing is important.

That’s why Wandsworth’s Housing department is important.

It does some fantastic work. Tenant satisfaction levels are extraordinary, officers have created hundreds of Hidden Homes, the graffiti removal service is excellent there are hugely popular open days to encourage home ownership and affordable housing.

The £100m regeneration of our most deprived estates is possible thanks to the long-term strength of the rents account – the Housing Revenue account – which has a £1.8bn projected surplus.

And it can’t be said often enough in this debate – housing is funded by those people who live in council housing. There is a legal ring-fence around the money collected in rent – more than £100m a year.

Unlike other debates about  cuts to services, this is not about the money we receive from government and this is not about the council tax we collect from residents.

The first thing to say about these proposals for 45 job cuts is that they were pushed through to evade scrutiny. The plans were fully formed at the time of the last housing committee but were hidden from councillors. This is not fair dealing.

Continue reading

The Wall in the Head: Why money alone can’t help our worst estates

Speech to Wandsworth council, May 15. Starts at 6 mins 10 secs in the below video of the debate

This council created modern Latchmere, the ward I represent, and we got it wrong. We built streets in the sky where neighbours fear to stop and talk. Designed estates with few shops and no jobs – in some cases literally with walls around them.

We had a tenancy policy that – coupled with a misguided Right To Buy scheme – has concentrated the borough’s most troubled families in the same places.

As I told this chamber in my maiden speech, I joined the council to change Latchmere, not keep it the same.

Since I made that speech in 2010, on the Winstanley and York Road Estates, six young men have been shot and one stabbed to death.

Continue reading

VIDEO The truth about housing: These cuts are unfair – but costs have got out of control

I gave this speech on Housing and the Government’s benefit cuts during a debate in Wandsworth Council’s December meeting. A video of the whole session is below, my speech leads the debate and begins at 35 seconds in. The text of the speech is below.

Continue reading