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.