Saturday, April 20, 2013

London Labour Housing Group Policy Conference April 2013

Last Saturday (April 13) I went to the London Labour Housing Group policy conference in Paddington. This event was sponsored by UNISON.

I was a little late since I had my Council surgery in Newham first. By coincidence I had 3 people come to me with separate housing related issues and was presented with a petition!

So I missed the key note speaker Jack Dromey MP and arrived during the first workshop.  I did manage to have a very quick word with him about the possibility of Council Pension funds investing in Social Housing. 

The workshop was on "London’s changing tenures: what are the implications for policy?" The report backs from the workshops on policy implications included the need for a mansion tax; a London "not for profit" letting agency; we need new build since 93% of money spent on housing is spent on housing benefit and not on new housing investment; need to build communities; leaseback of right to buy properties if owners unable to maintain; build more homes is the solution to bedroom tax.

Newham Council was praised for its Local Space Housing company which has bought private homes for temporary lets and for its Borough wide Private Sector licensing project.There was also mention of the need of a concordat with local authorities and the more democrat and responsible housing associations. After lunch there was the 2nd workshop on "Housing policies: what should Labour’s key promises be in 2014?"

Key promises from the report backs included the regulation of landlords across London and a "Fair Deal" for the private sector; stop fraud and tax evasion by landlords; no eviction for non payment of bedroom tax (but you cannot write off the debt); pledge to build more homes at affordable rents; CPO abandoned properties and bring back into use; increase Council tax on empty properties; green our existing stock; look at balance sheets of Housing associations that are not building; support TRA and instead of "right to buy" what about a "right to build" for homeless or overcrowded residents in every borough?

Finally (see picture) there was a plenary and panel discussion, Chaired by Karen Buck MP on "Campaigning on housing in 2014".  On the panel was Sir Steve Bullock, Jacky Peacock OBE, Councillor James Murray and myself (in my UNISON capacity).

Karen in her introduction praised Tory Secretary of State for Communities, Eric Pickles, as being "brilliant" for the way he tries to justify his despicable policies by antidote e.g. inferring that if only Councils did not pay their CEO's so much then no cuts would be necessary. She pointed out that Government by antidote is a disaster but perhaps we should learn from the Tories how to campaign with antidotes.

Steve gave a measured but powerful speech about how our policy and values towards housing defines us as a London Labour Party.  In Q&A Jacky reminded us all of the vital campaigning role that tenant and residents groups had played in the past and how they must be part of any housing solutions future.

James stressed how we must be pragmatic in our campaigning. When Labour took control of Islington Council in 2010, they announced that they will build new homes on spaces in Council estates but were taken back at the hostility to this idea by existing residents. The solution was to promise that any new tenancies would firstly be offered to any residents in need on the existing estates that they were planning to build upon.

I pointed out that we must have a living wage plus in London Housing. Not only a living wage but to defeat poverty, a living pension and sickness benefits for all workers - whether directly employed or sub-contractors.  Also we need to change the debate about taxes in this country. We will not be able to do what we want to do with regard to the provision of housing unless we spend more money. The rich must play their fair share but all of us will also have to pay more in taxes to get decent housing for all.

LLHG secretary (and Red Brick blogger) Steve Hilditch closed the conference and then Karen thanked him and all members of the Executive for their hard work in organising such a successful event.

Some of us then retired to the nearest pub to continue putting our London housing world to rights.

(picture Cllr Ross Houston)


Anonymous said...

A very good conference with lots of good ideas being considered. Pleased with the contribution from Jack Dromey and his clear thoughtfulness in considering vital issues.

Labour in London has the basis of a campaign-winning housing strategy.

John Gray said...

agreed anon. In 2014 we have the chance to win in London on housing policy. The first time in decades housing is such a hot potatoe.

Anonymous said...

potatoe - The proper spelling of the starchy root-vegetable, according to then-vice-president Dan Quayle as he tried to correct a small child in spelling

John Gray said...

whoops anon - Never mind Enjoy

Anonymous said...

"Council Pension funds investing in Social Housing."

I doubt council staff will want their pension subsidising people's rent. Would they really accept £80 per week when they can get £120 per week?. There is a conflict of interest. Islington Council is investing in building luxury flats at market rent. This Labour borough does not put its money where its mouth is and build homes in Islington to rent at affordable or social rent, or even help those hit by benefit caps.

"Newham Council was praised for its Local Space "

What a joker?. Is this more BS spread by Newham?.

Newham Council is putting trouble makers in these homes. I just hope Local Space buys a house next door to you or better still next to the Mayor.

Why dont Labour deal with housing association estates, which are a magnet for crime. The housing association waste money, look at the offices of East Thames. Do they think they are Foxtons?.

Labour has created the housing crisis, you let banks hand out money like there is no tomorrow. People drove up prices with all these free money.

It is a shame, that you don't talk about the elephant in the room. Newham has a lot of cheap housing (I say cheap compared to rest of London). The middle classes would rather pay through the nose to live elsewhere rather then move into Newham. Olympic did n't do the trick??

Instead of 'living wage', how about helping to create real jobs which have a future, not cheap supermarket and casino jobs.

John Gray said...

Hi anon

I know it is difficult but please get your facts right? Are you on about Islington Council General or HRA investing or its pension fund?

Its the LBI pension fund, not the Council that has a very small investment in private sector rental stock on the grounds that this will produce a reasonable return for the fund.

Only a complete idiot would think this would in any way mean that council staff are “subsidising peoples rent”.

LBI and other Councils are actually putting their money into building homes at affordable or social rent. The Government should lift spending limits to let them build more.

Local Space is on the whole a great success and in fact, not due to ASB, but poor landlord building maintenance, I wish that it did own both the private rented properties either side of me. I also share a boundary with a small but well run Council estate.

I would agree that we need to further democratise Housing associations, so I assume you want them to be nationalised?

Labour didn’t create the housing crisis – neo liberal capitalism did. Labour believed the lies about the invisible hand economy self regulating itself. I believe it has learnt its lesson and will not believe this rubbish ever again.

Newham is full of a whole range of vibrant, successful, mixed communities creating real well paid jobs.

I have lived here by choice for the past 25 years. If you don’t like living here, well, it’s a free country and I am more than happy to help you pack your removal van :)

Anonymous said...

I am referring to Islington Council as it was on your blog:

If want your pension fund to rent out at less them market rent then your pension is subsidising these people. Why should you be ashamed of it? If that is true.

Although, I doubt any socialist are charitable. They just like other people to pay for their generosity.

Anonymous said...

Local Space - Is it disappointing your are so dismissive. I have not made a complaint against the scum the council put in, but I know, there would have been violent retaliation. They put new people in, but lets see if they are any better....

Anonymous said...

"Labour didn’t create the housing crisis – neo liberal capitalism did. Labour believed the lies about the invisible hand economy self regulating itself. I believe it has learnt its lesson and will not believe this rubbish ever again. "

If the market runs it self, then why bother to get elected?

John Gray said...

Hi anon
In other countries pension funds invest in property and charge a social rent yet they make a good return. We are talking possible 30-50 year investments.

A share in the capital appreciation will increase return. Because of churn, agent fees and short term tenancies the “market rent” is far higher than it should be.

If you made a complaint against neighbours your complaint would be kept in confidence unless you gave permission but it would still be investigated.

For your information some of the worse and violent behaviour I have come across in 20 years of housing management in East London and Scotland have come from the children of owner occupiers.

The vast majority of people from all tenures are decent and it is the vile remarks of anonymous commenter’s on blogs that I wonder about.

Because it doesn’t run itself - that is the problem. Labour had to save capitalism from itself yet again in 2008-2010

Anonymous said...

I feel like giving you a punch in the face. (ok, I know not the right thing to say and I am a law abiding citizen, but wanted to make my sentiment understood).

You have no rights to say my remarks are vile. I have a right to be angry, when I have been the victim. It makes me angry that you 'dont get it'.

Lucky you. You have no bad experiences because you don't live near housing associations, Local Space homes or any trouble makers.

Explain to me why a gang 15 youths from a housing association would kick my car and leave a dent in it? Has society been cruel to them? Did n't we do enough to build them in nice new homes? Did n't we school them? Did n't we give them money to live?

As for Local Space, why do they buy private residential homes. You are spreading the bad behaviour into good neighborhoods. May be you don't know, but all the owners next to Local Space home have sold-up. It has caused a ripple effect. The number of owner occupied is a big fat 0.

The Local Space tenant who threatened violence have moved on (they were there 3 years). Local Space have put in new people. Finger crossed.

I know there are other factors besides Local Space, which accelerated owner-occupiers to sell up....

Local Spaces should only buy ex-social houses.

I have had many more incidents of ASB... This is just the tip of the ice burgh

I am not offended by the poor or people claiming benefits. But many don't have respect for Society and this is where Labour has failed. You focus on punishing people (assuming you can prosecute them). But I put it to you, why should these youths cause troubles?

It is no use of making a complaint (for serious cases), even if confidential, since they will know who made the complaint. Don't they always say "I know where you live!!!".

When one of the kids from a council house was involved in the London riot. The Wandsworth could not move the family out. Labour cannot explain why, someone whose family was given a council home would behave in this way??

This is why the public support what IDS is doing.

Look at Newham wasting money on its own police force. Why not teach kids right and wrong when they are young? Intervention when people are adults is too late.

You have failed the people who actually pay taxes.

Sorry it is a bit long...

John Gray said...

Hi anon

Your remarks about housing association tenants and their children as being "scum" are indeed vile. Full stop. Saying you want to punch me because you don't agree with me makes you out to be the yob I am afraid.

We all have a right to be "angry" (whatever that means) but no one has the right to stigmatise the millions of decent ordinary people and their children who happen to live in Housing Association owned properties in this way.

I have had plenty of "bad experiences" living in London, Leeds, Edinburgh or North Wales. I have knocked on many doors late at night telling people to turn their music down, called the Police, council noise enforcement and given evidence in Court over crimes I have witnessed (separate to my job as a housing officer or role as Cllr).

Working in housing for over 20 years I have no illusions about the problems that people face and I have a personal zero tolerance towards those who consciously make other peoples lives miserable.

You can make complaints of ASB in complete confidence, you don't have to even give your name or address.

If kids riot on their estates then they deserve to face eviction, not so if they get themselves in trouble shop lifting miles away from home.

I assume that you would want all those middle class kids who got arrested during the riots to have their owner occupier parents thrown out of their homes as well?

Prevention is key as well as having the policing resources to make people aware that there are consequences of wrong doing i.e they will get caught and face penalties

Finally, just a thought, there use to be a social contract in this country that if you worked hard you would get a decent job, on decent money, be treated right at work and be able to afford a decent home to live in and bring up your family.

Does this contract still exist or are you expected to work for rubbish money for a company which treats you as dirt with no rights and you have to live at home since there is not a cat in hell chance of you affording your own home.

No wonder we have problems in this country.