All London’s Housing Problems Solved!

This lot must be worth a fortune, too. Picture by Cybermyth13, taken from the Londonist Flickr pool.

No, not really. That’d be ridiculous. In fact, for anyone hoping London sorts out its housing shortage, it’s been a particularly depressing week.

Depressing story number one: on Tuesday, the GMB trade union released figures showing that 40% of ex-council houses in Wandsworth, that were bought by their occupants under the Thatcher government’s right-to-buy scheme, are now in the hands of buy-to-let landlords.

The figures, obtained via a series of Freedom of Information requests, show that, of the 15,874 council dwellings sold under the scheme, 6,180 are now private, rented properties. A fair chunk of these (977 of them, to be exact) are owned by landlords who have more than one such property. One owns 93 of them.

The GMB, unsurprisingly, disapproves, and uses some pretty emotive language to do it. “Rich harvest for greedy farmers.” “Vast profits from the public purse.” Even (this is not a drill) “you couldn’t make it up”.

To an extent, though, this ire seems misplaced. Once council housing finds its way into private ownership, of course it’s going to keep changing hands. And London’s housing market being what it is, a lot of it’s going to end up going to our buy-to-let masters.

The problem with right-to-buy isn’t that it enabled the rich to get richer: it’s that no one bothered to build any council houses to replace the ones we’d sold off. Millionaires building up rental property empires would be less annoying – not to mention less profitable – if there were enough houses to go round to start with.

That’s fine, though, because our public authorities now recognise this problem and are moving to address it right? Well.

Depressing story number two is the news that Hammersmith & Fulham has decided it’ll no longer hand out lifetime tenancies for its social housing. Get a publically-owned home in the borough in future, your contract will last for five years. If you’re under 25, or have a history of anti-social behaviour, it’ll last just two, in an attempt to encourage you to bugger off to the private rental market as quickly as possible.

Councils have theoretically had this power since 2010, but Hammersmith reckons it’s the first to actually use it. And in some ways, it makes sense: people’s circumstances change, and it’s silly to guarantee something indefinitely when there may be those whose need is greater.

On the other hand, there’s no getting away from the fact there’s something distinctly sick-making about the notion that a council officer can chuck someone out of their home on a whim. And still, no one out there in government seems to have considered the possibility that ‘building more houses’ might be a thing they should do here.

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Jonn

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  • http://londonist.com/ Dean Nicholas

    A third depressing story: developer of Vauxhall Sky Gardens has applied to have all social housing removed from the project. http://vivavauxhall.wordpress.com/2013/03/05/vauxhall-sky-gardens-have-applied-to-have-all-social-housing-removed-from-their-redevelopment-scheme/

    • http://twitter.com/jonnelledge Jonn Elledge

      Wow. That really is depressing. This rate we’re gonna go the way of Paris.

    • http://twitter.com/andybrice Andy Brice

      Rather than complaining online can we just raise a formal objection to the planning application?

      I’m going to look into that…

  • Johnny English

    Thank you for this. You do get to the nub of the problem with council house policy that (a) allowing people to buy their council home would not be a problem if the money was used to build a new council home for someone else, and (b) that it’s silly to guarantee a home indefinitely when there may be those whose need is greater. Council-owned housing should be there to enable people to get on the housing ladder, but it must also encourage people to get further up the ladder to (ie build up capital to buy a place of their own). Our elected officials should also have the backbone to stop house builders and developers abusing their power by forcing them to build more larger homes that affordable to the common man.

  • http://twitter.com/andybrice Andy Brice

    The other problem I can see with selling council properties, was the leasehold was a lot longer than the useable life of the buildings.

    A lot of council flats just weren’t built to last. Now they’re in a state of decay, but it’s difficult to rebuild them because some are privately owned.

  • openg

    I remember when I was in my twenties noticing the moral sea change that happened regarding property rental. I had friends who bought a few houses and filled up the rooms with tenants whilst excitedly explaining to me that, due to the fact that it was so easy to get a mortgage that you could then get tenants to pay the entirety of, coupled with the fact that in the long term property prices have never gone down, meant riches were to be made.

    I also had other friends that were living in some of the very awful housing snapped up by a lot of the Asian landlords around Reading. I met one landlord who owned 100 houses and used to fill them with people who were often signing on. At the time the dole didn’t seem to have any sensible limits on housing benefit so landlord would often do deals and claim more from the dole than the tenant was paying, shit rooms, no living room, just people making money and using that money to buy more houses, that meant housing prices went up meaning more profit. These landlords didn’t have any moral affiliation to the tenants they filled the rooms with, they could rot for all they cared, it was an opportunity missed by the Anglo Saxon majority because at one time it was morally wrong to squeeze people dry, but that has changed for good.

    Sure some people did it before, but when a Labour government made the whole deal legitimate by creating buy to let mortgages they made it OK for the leeches that fed off of those at the bottom of the pile legitimate too and here we are.

  • http://www.ipinglobal.com/ IPIN Global

    Sadly the current Right to Buy policy is not much better – initially it was said there would be one-for-one replacement. As it turns out after a conversation with former Housing Minister at the time Grant Shapps – it’s not the case: dialogue with Shapps here: http://www.ipinglobal.com/ipin-live/406510/holy-housing-shapps-man-it-should-be-possible