Below are the responses from Yvette Cooper MP to London Labour Housing Group’s questionnaire to Leader and Deputy Leader candidates on housing.
When Yvette was housing minster she was the first in years to achieve 200,000 homes a year- and she has talked of the importance of reaching 300,000 homes a year to meet need.
At the election we had a good list of measures to support house building and we should not discard the good work of the Lyons review. But we need to be more ambitious. So we should be looking at ways to prioritise support for councils and housing associations to build housing. Yvette as housing minister set in train the Eco-towns programme which has completely run into the ground since. We should be returning to that kind of ambition with new towns and urban extensions. And we will need comprehensive reform on planning and on the expectations on the Mayor and Boroughs in London on affordable housing.
How would you reform the private rented sector to make it more stable and affordable for tenants? Do you support: a national register of landlords; b. some form of rent regulation?
Yvette does think strong regulation for the Private rented sector is important. We were right to propose some form of rent stability for tenants – and it was ridiculous to attack this as 1970s style rent controls and therefore beyond the pale. There is definitely a need for some kind of register of landlords too. Labour’s support amongst private renters rose sharply at the election – it was one of the things Ed Miliband got very right – a focus on these people who are a large and growing group who wanted more protection from Government and we should continue to speak up for them. We should not simply repeat the offer we had at the last election and should start a conversation with private renters and landlords about how we can be even more ambitious.
Will you support the proposal, backed by former Labour Housing Minister John Healey MP, that we should aim to build 100,000 homes a year for social rent?
John succeeded Yvette as housing minister and was a great housing minister and Yvette is delighted to have his support for this leadership election. Clearly there are always risks in someone who wants to be leader of the opposition promising a specific spending commitment this far from an election. But we have never achieved the kind of level of house building we need without a significantly higher level of house building in the social rented sector, and Yvette has talked of the need for 300,000 homes a year in the UK.
Will you support the removal of the HRA borrowing cap, to allow councils to borrow prudentially for investment in housing?
Yvette believes that the Government has been utterly wrong not to be more flexible in allowing councils to leverage revenues for more house building especially over the last few years when construction sorely needed a boost, interest rates were at record lows and the economic case was unarguable. Clearly councils have the capacity to build more homes and that the HRA cap currently prevents that and that is something that will need to be dealt with if we are going to build the homes we need.
Do you agree that estate regeneration schemes should involve no net reduction in supply of social rented homes?
We need tough requirements on councils and the Mayor to deliver affordable homes – and that should include when estates are regenerated. But we need to be careful not to be too inflexible. Some councils have used regeneration of particular estates to build larger numbers of homes in a different part of the Borough than could be built where the project is happening. Yvette is clear this cannot be an excuse for undermining affordable homes requirements but we shouldn’t be absolutist about it.
Do you support the Right to Buy for council tenants and if so what reforms, if any, would you make to it? Do you support the extension of Right to Buy to Housing Association tenants?
In some circumstances it is right and proper for long term tenants to be able to buy their council homes – but we have to ensure that these are replaced and we need to reform right to buy to ensure that the homes sold are replaced – and that discounts are set at a sensible level that means that the homes can be replaced too.
Yvette is opposed to the extension of Right to Buy to housing associations. The problem with this policy is the Government hasn’t thought it through and can’t deliver. Between 2012 and 2014 there were 2,298 new homes funded by RTB proceeds – 22,899 were sold.The Government are only replacing one in 10 homes. That is a disgrace and makes the policy unworkable. Yvette will oppose this policy. Her plan to build 300 000 more homes will include housing association properties and council homes as well as different housing including homes for the elderly and first time buyers.
Do you support the Chancellor’s decision to cut social rents by 1% per year?
The way the Chancellor announced he would cut rents at the budget was very irresponsible. Clearly affordable rents is important but this is about the Chancellor trying to cut housing benefit costs off the back of housing associations. The OBR confirms it will mean fewer social rented homes are built – and there’s a real risk it will mean the debt of housing associations comes onto balance sheet hitting national debt and undermining housing association’s independence. The real reason for rising Housing Association rents is the Government’s failing affordable rent model – which we must fundamentally review.
Do you support policies to switch resources rapidly from meeting the benefit costs of high rents to investing in new homes at genuinely affordable rents?
When Yvette was housing minster she was the first in years to achieve 200,000 homes a year- and she has talked of the importance of reaching 300,000 homes a year to meet need. We need to get cracking and that will help to get the housing benefit bill down.
Do you agree that affordable housing definition should be based on households not spending more than 30% of net income on housing costs?
Affordable housing should mean affordable and the Government’s definition and affordable housing model means that much of what is called affordable housing is in no way affordable. That needs to change.
Would you relax restrictions on building on the Green Belt?
We need to protect valuable green belt land and ensure that we build the housing we need. We should look at where the balance is right and where it is wrong- but we need to ensure a robust brownfield first approach.
Would you reverse permitted development rights allowing offices, shops, and other employment spaces in dense urban areas to change asset class and be converted into flats without planning permission?
There are clearly changes happening online and to the high street, and to working practices which are changing the nature of the kinds of properties we need in cities. And we do need more housing. But Yvette is worried that the Government’s changes are a blunt instrument that risks economic damage where valuable business and community assets are taken out of use – and substandard housing. So we need to review this policy.
How would you secure more affordable housing contributions from private developers through the planning system? How would you change the current approach to viability?
We need a fundamental look at both affordable housing and planning gain to ensure that we are generating the housing and the infrastructure we need. We need to ensure that there is a robust process to ensure that economic viability is not used as an excuse not to meet developers’ responsibilities for affordable housing or infrastructure.
Would you support devolution to the Greater London Authority and city regions of control over: a. private rented sector regulation; b. Housing Association regulation; c. Right to Buy?
Yvette wants to see greater powers over housing and the rental market for the GLA and Mayor.
Will you commit to restoring the previous Labour Government’s homelessness safety net for priority groups and to improving support for single homeless people?
The last Labour Government virtually eradicated rough sleeping and this has gone backwards under this Government. We need to reverse that and Yvette wants to build on the lessons we learnt from these successful schemes.