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

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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

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.

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Wandsworth’s in a housing crisis – and the council just made it worse

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I have called a public meeting in the Town Hall tomorrow night (Tuesday, 6.30pm in Room 122) to discuss the housing crisis in Wandsworth. I hope you can come.

Private rents are up 14pc in a year, the average income of a homebuyer is now more than £100,000 and there are 6,000 people waiting for council flats.

Looking to buy? This parking space in Battersea costs £70,000, this garage in Tooting costs £315,000 and this former council flat in Latchmere costs £550,000!

Homelessness is on the rise and the Bedroom Tax is hurting hundreds of local families – you can read how it has affected one mother on the Shaftesbury Estate here.

The council should be working round the clock to help people move up the housing ladder. Instead they have decided to cut 45 roles from the housing department.

These job losses are not necessary. Wandsworth’s housing finances are in excellent shape and its officers widely respected.

Housing services are not paid for from Council Tax – they are paid for by people who live in council housing. Wandsworth charges the highest council rents in the country so its housing department is very well off. These cuts aim to save money from a rents account that has a predicted £1,800m surplus!

Wandsworth has a dreadful record on homeless families left in unsuitable B&B accommodation, yet it is proposed to reduce the size of the relevant team and add to its duties. 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.

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Read all about it: Wandsworth’s housing crisis hits the newspapers

My recent blog post Analysis: ‘Wandsworth fixes rents by elections not economics’ led to quite a lot of interest from the press. Not all of the coverage was balanced, but it has helped to draw attention to an important issue:

Private Eye Article

Private Eye, March 22 Continue reading

Analysis: ‘Wandsworth fixes rents by elections not economics’

New research shows Wandsworth sets rent increases at less than half the government guideline in the year before local elections and more than double the guideline in the first year after local elections.

This shocking finding came from analysis I commissioned of rent data from the past 20 years – and follows the council’s decision to increase rents by 2.7% in 2013/14. Wandsworth council already charges the highest rents in Britain and by the end of this year benefit cuts will seriously affect many families in social housing.

Data reveals that year before an election Wandsworth charges 44% of the government’s suggested guideline rent rise; but the year after each election rents leap by 246% of the guideline.

The figures can be revealed after a political row in the most recent Town Hall Housing Committee. At the January 23 meeting, Labour councillor Tony Belton produced a list of rent increases for the past 20 years and stated that rents were clearly set to match political priorities, not financial ones. 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.

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