Cllr Emily Smith, on the Government’s Housing Bill

Emily headAt the Vale council meeting Weds 16th Dec, Tories tabled a motion that ‘Council endorses the Government’s Housing Bill’ (or something similar — it was much longer and panglossian (as Cllr Bob Johnson said.)

Emily Smith had this to say in her first speech to council:

The Housing Bill includes some welcome elements, such as better protection for renters from rogue landlords and new measures to bring ‘abandoned’ properties back in to use.

However, I share Shelter’s concerns that as currently drafted this Bill could actually lead to a net loss of around 180,000 affordable homes for people on low and middle incomes. The forced sell-off of council homes to fund right-to-buy discounts for housing associations will mean affordable homes currently set aside for local people could be sold on to speculators and buy-to-let landlords.

My understanding is that there is no requirement for replacement homes of the same value to be provided in the local area which could lead to the break-up of established communities and is a concern for people in rural areas especially. The Bill fails to recognise that Housing Associations will simply be trying to catch up with replacing homes rather than focussing on building new affordable homes.

The Bill seems to be driven by an ideological obsession with home ownership, but surely we still need rental homes and social housing too. We need a mix of tenures to suit people moving to the Vale for employment and affordable rents for local families saving for deposits, so that communities are not broken up. Even if everyone did want to buy a home, my understanding is the Housing Bill states an affordable home can be worth up to £450,000*. In the Vale the average salary is under £30,000. Are Cllr Cox and Cllr Murray suggesting that £450,000 is affordable for local families? [*Cllr Murray explained that the cap for affordable homes outside London is actually £250,000]

We clearly need to build more homes to the tune of 300,000 a year to have a real impact on housing availability and costs. If all the developers that have already been granted planning permission for housing got on and built them, we would probably be able to achieve that. So what does the Housing Bill offer in terms of making sure that those developers start building? Does it address the problems with supply of building materials? I am in regular contact with construction firms who tell me they struggle to recruit builders, but the Bill does not address the skills shortage we are faced with in the Vale.

And finally, we as a council have a duty of care for our most vulnerable residents and a responsibility to prevent homelessness. We have already starting to see a rise in homelessness and government changes to welfare and cuts to local government grants now threaten the funding received by homeless hostels and organisations like the Citizens Advice Bureau who help people at the bottom of the housing system. At the Housing Strategy Workshop for councillors in October, attended by many of the members here, there was cross-party consensus that the only way the Vale could guarantee that no vulnerable residents are homeless would be to increase council owned or managed housing stock. But this bill encourages the selling-off of council and housing association properties – the opposite of what we need right now.

In my opinion, this Housing Bill is ill thought through and a missed opportunity to ensure the affordable homes we need are built. It is also undermines our ability to provide for the Vale’s most vulnerable residents and low income families. Therefore I cannot support this motion to endorse the Bill as a whole.