Ealing tries to make sense of the mess of Tory housing policy

Ealing Council should retain its commitment to social rented homes and security of tenure in its own stock.  That’s the foremost recommendation from the report of the Council’s Housing Commission, published this week after a year of research and debate.

In a thorough review, the Commission looks to navigate a way ahead for a borough that will feel the effects of the Government’s new housing policies more than most.  It builds a strong case for active intervention in the local housing market and the delivery of more homes for social rent as well as other tenures.

Commission member and Chief Executive of L&Q housing association David Montague said: “Ealing has a clear housing vision and realises that a successful housing policy is one that supports employment and diverse communities, mixed by income, tenure and ethnicity. Our challenge has been to identify ways for Ealing to achieve this vision, whilst simultaneously responding to a rapidly changing policy and funding environment.”

Starting from the position that ‘the prospect for higher investment in the future seems extremely limited’, the report notes that: ‘Funding for new social housing is no longer available and the replacement product Affordable Rent may not meet the council’s needs. At the same time the expectation of the government and Mayor of London  is that AR should be the default type of new affordable supply in London. Furthermore, extensive changes to Local Housing Allowance and Housing Benefit will see more people in Ealing unable to afford their accommodation in the affordable and private sectors.’

Trying to reconcile the policies that the Commission identifies as being necessary – to meet housing need and improve the housing market in the borough – with the reality of current Government policies and the diminishing resources available, the report attempts the tough job of marrying principle and pragmatism into a coherent strategy for the next few years.  It will be a useful read for London’s other Labour boroughs struggling with the same dilemmas.

It’s key recommendations include:

  • The council should maintain a commitment to socially rented homes and security of tenure in its own stock to meet housing need.
  • The council should work with housing associations to make rents for the ‘Affordable Rent’ product as affordable as they can be and to ensure tenancies are as secure as possible.
  • The council should seek to expand its current programme of 150 new council homes for social rent, using council land and the opportunity of HRA reform, because it may be the only source of new social rented homes. This might involve ‘re-profiling’ its own stock by selling some one-bedroom homes in order to provide more family homes and prioritising the construction of affordable family homes by housing associations even at the expense of fewer homes overall.
  • The council should utilise its additional borrowing headroom under HRA reform to provide further finance for estate regeneration.
  • The council should begin developing homes for private sale and rent to provide cross subsidy for social housing and help create sustainable mixed tenure communities.
  • The council, when developing new housing, should provide or ensure its partners provide training and apprenticeships for local young people as a condition of working with and for the council.
  • In the private rented sector, the council should introduce landlords licensing schemes, first in areas where there are especially poor standards.
  • The council should revise its allocations policy to provide greater access to social housing for those in employment and further consider how it allocates ‘Affordable Rent’ properties in the borough.

Tough choices are involved in many of these policies, and I don’t agree with them all.  But the council is not where it wants to be or where it should be in a rational world.  As London’s Tory boroughs implement ever more extreme social cleansing policies, Labour boroughs need to undertake exercises like this to work through policies which offer the maximum protection both to the squeezed middle and to the squashed bottom.

With Ken Livingstone hopefully reinstalled in City Hall, and the growing prospect of a Labour Government in 2015, reports like this will help progressive borough politicians to work through the current mess of Tory housing policy, putting them in a better position to come forward with radical manifesto proposals for the borough elections in 2014.

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