Rather than building the Council houses that our city needs so much, the Labour Party here in Leicester (as elsewhere) prefer to commit themselves to using Housing Associations to build what they like to refer to as “affordable” homes. With affordable meaning housing units that are rented out at 80% of market levels; so their actual affordability is somewhat contentious. And contrary to Council housing, where rent can be collected by the Council to be used to build further Council houses, Housing Associations, while run as non-profit but nevertheless private operations have no democratic mandate and are smoothing the ongoing privatisation of housing stock.
Leicester TUSC Councillor Wayne Naylor clearly recognizes that a commitment to building Council housing is essential. Thus last Thursday he asked whether the Labour Council would “commit to a progressive program of rebuilding council houses rather than sinking more public money into private hands for profit?” The non-answer was a resounding no! It is clear that the Council should immediately start a mass building programme of affordable, good quality public housing if it is serious about solving the enormous shortage that exists. On top of this rents in both public and private sector should be capped at a genuinely affordable level and councils should act pro-actively to check this.
By way of an example of the useless vision of housing pioneered by the Labour Party in Leicester, one need only look to the example of their latest building venture taking place on the 13-acre former allotment site off Saffron Lane. Here the Council are in the process of enabling the East Midlands Housing Association (Emh homes) and Westleigh Developments to build 50 so-called affordable eco-homes. In this instance, not only is the Labour Council using Housing Associations to house the poor, not Council homes, it can also boast of selling publicly owned land worth some £1.5 million for just £1.
Such a not-so-enlightened housing policy is closely aligned to many of the Labour Party’s own friends, thus the current chair of the East Midlands Housing Association is Leicestershire Labour Party councillor, Jo Fox (who represents the ward of Ravenhurst and Fosse in Braunstone Town on Blaby District Council). Another recent chair of the Housing Association was former Labour councillor and later Lord Mayor of Leicester, Maggie Bodell-Stagg, who currently sits alongside Labour’s current housing head-honcho Andy Connelly on the board of trustees of North Memorial Homes. Little wonder that East Midlands Housing Association gets so many cosy deals from the Council, having just completed the creation of 28 “affordable” homes at Dartmouth Gardens.
“By Labour’s own limited ambitions (made in 2008), they set themselves the immensely achievable target of building 1,280 new homes each year in Leicester, of which 790 were suggested to be affordable housing units. But due to funding cuts, even these low targets have not been met. In fact, only 601 affordable housing units have been constructed since 2008, and the Council predicts “that no more than 300 houses will be completed between 2012 -2015.” They are admitting that only 150 affordable units have been built a year, and that they aim to reduce this to just 100 a year from now on.”
Last year the Leicester City Labour Council finessed their dangerously ludicrous housing plans, by not only failing to promise not to evict people who couldn’t pay the hated bedroom tax, but also slashing their budget for homeless services, and by converting a (recently closed) homeless hostel into affordable housing no less! A policy that was upgraded to convert three former homeless hostels into “affordable” housing.
Quite clearly Labour are unable to provide a progressive lead on housing in Leicester, or on almost any other matter for that point. However, working collectively the rest of us could hardly fail to do better, so make sure you put the 25th October in your diary to come along to the TUSC People’s Budget meeting in Leicester city centre to let your local TUSC Councillors know what they should be campaigning on over the coming years.
FURTHER READING: Sarah Glynn (editor), Other Half Lives: Lower Income Housing in a Neo-Liberal World (2009) – reviewed here.