This is the follow on from my post the other day, arguing that Labour didn’t need housing policies now. But we do need to set out some principles to show how we’d be different and use as a basis for opposition to the government. Here’s my starter for 10, but are these too specific and prescriptive still?
- Defend the principle that the state has a duty to ensure the poorest and most vulnerable are properly housed.
Under attack from the coalition a no brainer for us.
- Promote the principle that the state has a role in ensuring the housing system meets everyone’s aspirations
The government should ensure that the private housing market and the mortgage market works better to meet what people want. And there should be a role helping those who aren’t the most vulnerable, but may struggle to buy, to have housing that meet their needs.
- A commitment to mixed communities
There are good policy reasons to ensure a mixture of incomes, class and ethnicities in a neighbourhood. It helps build understanding and solidarity between different types of people. And I believe the type of segregation you see in the US, France or elsewhere is culturally alien to us in Britain. For example, part of London’s identity has always been that rich and poor could live ‘cheek by jowl.’
- Maintain some ‘Bricks and Mortar’ subsidy, i.e. grant to build affordable homes
The government has shifted financial support for those who can’t afford a home from building affordable homes (bricks and mortar subsidy) to housing benefit to allow people to pay private or near private rents (personal subsidy). This will be difficult even in five years’ time, but we shouldn’t give it up. Mixed communities depend on it and it means we support a wider range of providers.
- A commitment to a mixed economy of housing; more products, more choice from more providers.
Labour should promote a more diverse sector: a wider range of private builders and more opportunities for smaller firms, more space for co-ops and mutuals, get more housing associations of different sizes building and free councils to build again. Encourage, support, cajole and compel providers to offer a diverse range of products from supported housing for those with extensive needs, to traditional social rents, to a variety of sub-market rents, to well managed professional private rent and a range of ways to get into homeownership.
- Embrace localism; free councils.
Tricky this one. The government’s localism is a front for neglecting their responsibilities for ensuring everyone is well housed. But, support for new housing best comes from a local area and housing provision should respond to local needs, the type of community and people’s aspirations. One popular way would be to free councils to start building again and putting their housing business on the same footing as housing associations with the ability to borrow (someone with better knowledge needs to correct me as to why this is so impossible, as I’m often told). They should be able to build for a range of needs and aspirations and not just social rent. We will need to find a credible way to square this with 1. What happens when local areas make decisions that make it impossible to house everyone well?
- Intervene to prevent another property bubble
If house prices ever start running away again, let’s be brave and act. And let’s tell people now that we will curb excessive house price rises. Making this argument successfully should be done immediately while the economic crisis is still fresh in people’s minds. You won’t convince homeowners just at the time when you need to do it that it’s needed.
There may be more things I think of…