The Case for Public Housing

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When did property ownership become such a major aim in the life of ordinary people? When did living in council owned housing become a stigma? When did mortgages did multi-generation mortgages come to be considered? Who has benefitted? In the light of current levels poverty and homelessness, why did we all go along with it all?

Sarah Glynn’s article looks back at the change in housing over the last hundred years or so.

The Case for Public Housing

By Sarah Glynn, Occupy Times

A home is such a basic need that the provision of adequate and decent housing should be a fundamental requirement of a fair society. But what do we require of a home beyond sound and safe shelter that can accommodate our household in a reasonably convenient location? Security of tenure is a vital basis for secure lives, and affordability is crucial. We may also need the option to move without penalty as and when circumstances demand. And most of us enjoy the opportunity to personalise our home.

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These should be the major considerations behind any housing policy, but increasingly they have become subservient to a free market politics that views housing as a major source of wealth and investment. None of the basic requirements listed above are dependent on home ownership – in fact affordability and moving house can be easier if you are not a homeowner.

Politicians like to claim that homeownership is a ‘natural’ aspiration, but it has been deliberately cultivated and subsidised by our capitalist society. As successive politicians have argued, homeownership encourages people to identify with conservative ideas about private property, and workers tied to a home and a mortgage are less likely to risk taking part in strike action.

One hundred years ago, almost everyone in the UK rented their homes, but they rented them from private landlords who sought to extract maximum profits. For working-class people, that meant dreadful, overcrowded conditions, insecure tenancies, and extortionate rents. State-subsidised council housing was brought in after the First World War because the private system wasn’t working – and because the government feared the growth of revolutionary ideas if they weren’t seen to be doing something about it. By the end of the 1970s, one third of households in the UK – and over half in Scotland – lived in publicly-owned, state-subsidised rented housing, and living conditions had undergone a massive improvement. But these developments were not without problems. An emphasis on quantity over quality meant housing estates were often poorly designed, serviced and maintained; and problems were compounded by distant, bureaucratic management.

Meanwhile, homeownership grew even more significantly, becoming associated with higher social standing. Investment in private property took on a growing role in national and household economics. Home owners used their property wealth to climb the economic ladder, leaving renters behind in relative poverty. Three decades of neoliberal free market policies have sold off the best council homes, restricted funding for those that remain, and created a disastrous property bubble. Private renting is again on the rise, along with all the problems that made public housing necessary in the first place. Landlords are amassing easy money as tenants hand over ever higher proportions of their income in rent. Housing benefits only serve to subsidise the landlords.

It needn’t have been like this. Public housing can provide everything that we want from a home, and fiscal rules can be drawn up so that homeowners do not gain a financial advantage over those who rent. Well considered and resourced housing policies can make a substantial contribution to a fairer, more equal society. In 1960s Sweden, a combination of regulations and subsidies ensured that tenants were not penalised with respect to owner occupiers; in modern Helsinki, 80% of land is publicly owned and half of homes are subsidised rented houses, which are often indistinguishable from their privately owned neighbours; and even in the UK there have been successful experiments in tenant management.

Public housing in the UK has been given bad press because vested interests did not want it to be too successful. Inadequate funding and bad management ensured its second class status. Its increasingly “safety net” role has led to it being stigmatised as poor housing for poor people. And there have been some spectacular failures. However, despite all this, the majority of schemes provided good homes that made a real difference to working-class living standards. And if we learn from past mistakes, we could see public housing playing an even more significant role in the future. There is no reason why we couldn’t plan for good quality, well-subsidised public housing for all who want it. This might seem extravagant, but it would be an investment in better life chances and a more cohesive and equal society. This time we could construct a system of local management, incorporating tenant involvement. Public housing also offers the possibility of co-ordinated planning, taking account of all the other things that make a community, and making efficient use of green technologies.

Public housing satisfies urgent practical needs as well as offering opportunities for a much more holistic approach to creating fairer and more sustainable communities.

By Sarah Glynn | sarahglynn.net

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
– See more at: http://theoccupiedtimes.org/?p=11971#sthash.1imXPAAp.dpuf

See also: Uniting the People – Houses for People, not Profiteers

Will the ‘left’ throw the baby out with the bathwater?

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By Councillor Jim Grundy

To friends and comrades: the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition is standing a candidate in Hucknall for the Nottinghamshire County Council elections on 2nd May.  I cannot tell you – do I need to? – how thoroughly depressing I find this to be.

Some people will never be content with the Labour Party as a party of the Left – and that is their prerogative.  Some within Labour can often appear to be somewhat less than ‘left-friendly’ but within Hucknall – where we have no county councillors (for the moment) but all nine district councillors – what are they opposing?

Hucknall’s Labour councillors have taken leading roles in ensuring that the District Council adopted the Living Wage.  Hucknall’s Labour councillors supported the moves to freeze, not only Council Tax but Council housing rents too.  We haven’t passed on the cuts to Council Tax Benefit and are currently developing a package to protect those affected by the Bedroom Tax.  We’ve also ensured that all low-paid council and Ashfield Homes’ employees received £250 when the Government vetoed a pay rise.  No other council can claim to have done more.  None.  I challenge anyone to prove otherwise.

Services, such as the call monitoring service, one that the most vulnerable rely upon in an emergency, have been supported, filling the gap left by the Tory-run (for the moment) County Council’s cuts to the budget.  We are about to begin the construction of the first council houses in Ashfield for over 30 years, with more planned.

All of that, it seems, is not good enough.  We’ve worked – and continue to work – with local Trade Union representatives.  But we now find ourselves opposed by people we might have hoped would’ve supported the measures we’ve put in place to support those most affected by the Tory/Lib Dem Coalition.

We won’t change course.  But, it seems, some will never abandon their position of opposing Labour whatever it does, wherever they find it.  One day they might discover the Tory Party and others on the Right but it seems, they’re far happier… much more comfortable attacking the evils of Labour without ever, even for a nanosecond, thinking they would have to do anything other than utter some empty rhetoric that they will never have to back up with action in the real world.

It is referred to in political circles as sectarianism.  I am sure that those trying to come to terms with what the Tories are doing to them, have other expressions that best describe it.  But, whilst they might claim my complaint is merely seeking to shut down criticism of the Labour Party – for they can have no other critique, rarely dealing with ‘real people’ – the reality is that they are self-indulgent, self-serving individuals who positively revel in ordinary people’s misery if they believe it serves as a recruiting agent for their own purposes.  That, I think, is shameful.  But, obviously, I will be proven wrong… triumphantly so… when that mass workers’ party otherwise known as the Socialist Party takes centre stage.

I have many friends on the Left and I value their friendship more than I can tell.  A lot of them would never dream of voting for, let alone joining Labour.  Few of them, though, would spend time attacking a Labour council with our recent track record.  They’d rather back what we were doing, whilst arguing… arguing very strongly, that there was still much more to do… but they would think it much more profitable to spend their time attacking Tories and Lib Dems rather than seeking to undermine what we’re trying to do locally.  But some people are not and never will be my/our friends.  Good luck to them and when they’ve proved that their red flag is a much purer shade of red than mine, they can go home, safe in the knowledge that they never have to actually do anything beyond writing a slogan to oppose what the Tories are doing.  I don’t doubt their slogans are better than ours.  But I do wonder how much they help those about to be hit by the Bedroom Tax.  I have to try to do something in the here and now for such people and not go back to Nottingham, smug in my political theorising and safe in the knowledge that I’ll never have to do anything in the real world to alter what is taking place to real people in the here and now, rather than the glorious future that is to come.

If that sounds horribly negative and angry, well, it is.  Except I and my fellow Labour councillors in Hucknall are taking action to help those on the receiving end of what is happening, and not simply proving to a very narrow section of society just how morally superior we are to everyone else.  We’ll carry on, working hard to ensure that real people receive real help now.  There is a difference.  And ‘real’ people can spot it a million miles off.

Yes, I am pissed off at finding ourselves opposed by people who, even if they will never be our friends, should at the very least recognise who is on the same side.  We might choose a different path and others will argue about the veracity of that too but there is a bigger prize to be won than a test of political theory.  Honest.

Related posts by Jim Grundy

This Ghastly Bedroom Tax spreads Fear… #bedroomtax

The Bedroom Tax: The Unkindest Cut of All?

How can pay rise be unfair when mega-rich get tax cut?

The Unnatural Death of Affordable Housing

Planning to Blame Immigrants? Get Your Facts Straight & Get Rid of Your Prejudices, Nick Boles

Arguments that every Liberal Democrat would do well to hear

“Never Again” : Homes and Communities for Everyone

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Homes and Communities for Everyone

“Never Again”

Margaret Thatcher’s ominous words, “There’s no such thing as society,” were destined to haunt many future generations.

Reeling from two world wars, and the defeat of fascism, ordinary British families, bereaved and broken, damaged yet determined set about rebuilding Britain. The political message of “Never Again” in 1945 1) led to a Socialist Labour government which promised full employment, a tax-funded universal National Health Service, a massive housing programme and the embracing of Keynesian economic policies.

Labour’s cradle-to-grave welfare state, presented with the campaign message ‘Let us face the future’ brought everyone together for common good. 2)

Collectivism was implicit, everyone was valued for their contribution, mutual respect prevailed, society thrived and so did people. Working class people who grew up in the sixties and seventies benefited with opportunities their forefathers never knew.

All this was turned on its head in the eighties. The positive idea of collectivism, the interdependence of people, the power of solidarity, and of trade unionism was crushed.

Thatcher’s esteemed ideas of individuals’ wealth, and her contempt for collective socialism was fed, via the media and Neoliberalism was born. Many believed that this new prosperity could be a reality for them, and bought into the idea of home ownership, and of property investment, believing that this would lead to a greater share in the nation’s wealth.

The Victorian working classes survived against the odds, given their appalling living conditions. Inner city housing for working class families was inferior to farm animals, and this was reflected in the very high mortality rates, and incidence of disease.. The sanitary conditions in Birmingham back-to-backs at the turn of the century are documented here. 3)

Against this background, socialist and Labour groups campaigned for municipal housing. The homes would be owned by the people, were intended put an end to the slums.

Fred Knee secretary of the Workers National Housing Council in the 1890’s said “It is not the housing of the poor, but the housing of the people by the people themselves, that we must work for not the herding into slums for the benefit of private enterprise, not the crowding into barracks in order to provide interest for municipal bondholders, but by a feasible honest system and plan “

Early struggles for Council Housing…and the opposition to it 1900 to 1945 (John Grayson) 4)

The core principle is that the houses would be decent homes, improving health and living standards for working people. The idea was unpopular with Tory Councils because some saw housing, not as people’s homes, but as a source of income. The idea of collective ownership in any form was seen as a threat.

John Grayson’s document of History of Housing from 1900 until 2007 4) (recommended) recounts the development of the municipal housing, and how Conservative policies deliberately targeted rents, making housing unaffordable leading to social and racial divisions.

Beveridge (Lib) had identified poor housing as one of five great evils, and it was at the forefront of Nye Bevan’s policy with over one million homes being built. However, by 1957 Conservatives had already started to withdraw subsidies, causing municipal rents to treble, and discrimination in private rental market led to racism and division.

In 1968 council housing 31% of tenants were from the poorest 30% of households nationally, 46% from the richest 50% of households. Those attracted to council house living were actually a good cross-section of working class and professional middle class families. Councils by building houses for rent were also able to attract what we now call ‘key workers’ to their areas, and provide ‘labour mobility’ .

Council housing in 1978 at its all time high, nearly a third of housing (32%), but Labour had also encouraged owner occupation (54%). 1978 was a year when there was serious housing choice. Campaigns forced Labour to pass the Homeless Persons Act 1977, and the Race Relations Act in 1976, which brought in many tenants who had been excluded. In 1979 councils were still housing in rented accommodation 20% of the richest tenth of the population.

Tipping the Balance of Society

Thirty years ago there was balanced, sustainable council housing alongside owner occupation. Because of the cross section of manual and professional workers, communities were balanced, and necessary skills widespread. Thus the Thatcherite housing policies destroyed the heart of society. They destroyed the cohesion of communities, leading to areas of great deprivation, and poverty.

Before 1979, Conservative policies allowed council tenants to take on their homes in exchange for maintaining them. Thatcher’s polices of Right-to Buy Council homes led many to buy their homes at a discounted price and with rents rising their hands were forced. Thatcher did not permit the housing stock to be replenished, leading to an acute housing shortage and glimpse back in time, to the days of unscrupulous landlords.

Unreasonably high and unaffordable rents need to be subsidised by Housing Benefit because that is the only way people can afford to live in them, despite many working long hours. Shamefully, Tony Blair’s New Labour governments did not address the housing crisis. Neoliberalism, out of control capitalism, hid behind the illusion of an ever-growing housing bubble.

People were led to believe that a society based on escalating property prices and neoliberalism could thrive. Meanwhile manufacturing industry closed down with the business emphasis on finance, mortgages and insurance. Blindly, many took on debts they could not afford. House prices rose uncontrollably and we witnessed the greed of buy-to-let mortgages which put the prospect of any home out of reach of young people. It is an impossibility for such a system to continue indefinitely, and a crash was inevitable.

Now the Bubble has burst, haemorrhaging its wealth to bankers and corporations.

To Neo-liberalism we say, “Never Again”. And, once Whitehall is rid of this destructive Coaltion government, and we look to build our communities again, we need to be aware of dangers and , banish those myths.

Myth 1.”Buying a home is an investment, as house prices increase – “. There is no guarantee that house prices will rise – in fact this approach is basically gambling, and who would gamble with their home?

Myth 2. “Rising house-prices is a good thing.” House price rises just mean other people are less likely to be able to obtain a home, leading to homelessness.

Myth 3. “People claim Housing Benefit so they don’t need to work.” Most claimants are at work, high rent prices effectively mean the only one to benefit is the landlord. Without benefits, working people could simply not survive.

Myth 3: “Buying a house saves money – renting costs more in the long run.” Buying a home costs much more than the cost to build, interest rates always benefit the banks and financiers. Rents are kept artificially high.

Myth 4: ” In a recession the government cannot afford to build homes”. The government can produce its own money for building, providing jobs, and boosting the economy, frankly the government can not afford not to build.

Myth 5: “Young people can stay at home with parents.” Many have no parents, their parents may have no homes, or no space. Undue pressure and overcrowding will have a detrimental effect on family relationships.

Myth 6: “People don’t deserve a subsidised home, I worked hard for mine.” Everyone deserves a decent home, and a job, enabling them to participate in society for mutual benefit.”

In history, the working class at war faced awful conditions, fodder for trenches and factories alike. For the last thirty years many live lives devoid of dignity or respect while the very rich, look away without a care, merely concerned with their own profits.

Homes for the Future

The People’s Recovery

Miliband’s One Nation should be aiming for full employment for everyone who can work, and allow all to participate as fully as is possible, to enjoy a decent home, and reasonable life-work balance, without debt, or impacting negatively on the future finances and environment of our grandchildren. Why, in a world where there is adequate resources for all, are people living without homes? Why are homes left empty? Where is the justice in a world where some have many homes, and others none at all?

James Murray 5) and the Think-Tank CLASS (Campaign for Labour and Social Studies ) have recently published “Time to Step-in”, and call for government intervention in Housing policy and and investment in publicly funded social housing initiatives. It is the responsibility of government to determine where homes are built, and the type of homes.

Murray’s emphasis of the need not to rely of the profit driven markets to deliver housing is exemplified in that the Coalition government are considering reviewing energy and disability regulations 6) in order to boost a building boom.

The Government are planning to cut fire safety and wheelchair regulations (6) in attempts to give the construction industry an economic boost.

Ministers have ordered an across the board review, to examine whether regulations, across energy, water, security, accessibility and whether builders should be given the option of self- regulation, should be introduced to cut costs for the industry.

This coincides with the governments relaxation on home building, as only last month David Cameron announced a ‘free for all’, allowing home owners to be able to extend their houses by up to 8 metres without planning permission from the local council.
Plans to give the construction industry a boost come from the latest shocking figures that house building is at its lowest since the 1920’s, resulting in rent costs at an all time high, and potentially blocking a whole generation out of the property ladder.

It is unacceptable for housing initiatives to be merely driven by profit, and almost inconceivable that such risks to safety are contemplated.

Homes must be secure, safe and affordable, but also need to be built in areas where there is suitable employment, and where people want to live. Homes built in Ghost Estates in Ireland lie empty, never occupied. Simply pursuing policies of a profit-driven society, without consideration of employment, education and training needs, eventually lead to the social divisions we see today. This can result in a persistence of poverty in some urban areas, despite restructuring communities as revealed in the study, Why Neighbourhoods remain poor.( 7)

  • Economic restructuring, particularly the decline of the manufacturing sector in Birmingham, plays an important role in explaining this.
  • The loss of these jobs has disproportionately affected already deprived areas.
  • Birmingham is becoming a low-wage economy. Since 2001, wages have fallen in real terms and at a faster rate amongst the lower-paid.
  • Internal migration within the city has also tended to concentrate less advantaged people within already deprived areas largely due to the cost, tenure and availability of housing.
  • The availability of affordable housing – either social rented or cheap private housing – in particular areas mean that those with least choice tend to move to those places.Looking forward we must be ready for the Conservatives who will attempt to block every initiative for common ownership, and policies aimed at redistribution of wealth. We all need homes, decent ones, as we need food water, and energy, and this is why a Housing Policy must always put need before profit.

Declining Construction Industry

Recent reports (BBC) 18) show UK construction industry falling, and as we approach winter further falls can be anticipated putting many out of work and on benefits.

UK construction activity fell 13.1% in September from a year ago, as the sector’s downturn steepened:

ONS  Construction Industry Q3: 2012 19)

The month saw further big drops in new building by the commercial and public sectors (excluding infrastructure projects), both of which were down by a fifth from a year ago.

House building saw a 5% bounce in the month but remains 12% below a year ago.

The government’s policy of deep cuts during a recessions is more disaster politics. A massive building initiative of public building, providing jobs worked in 1945 and will work again.

We must be mindful of corruption and  insist on transparency about construction companies and ensure that they publicise any self interest and detail their finances and tax contributions. Never again should we allow public assets to be stripped away for personal profit. Here, Sir John Banham is advocating the use of pensions funds for Local Authority workers 8) to fund housing.

(8) The Telegraph reports on a year-long study by the Future Homes Commission, which is chaired by City grandee Sir John Banham, proposes that money from local authorities’ pension funds should be used to create a £10 billion Local Housing Development Fund, which would build mixed-tenure housing in communities suffering from a shortage.

With the courage reminiscent of the socialist Labour Party of 65 years ago, with innovative design, planning and, and a commitment to improve living standards and people’s well-being, we can finally turn our back on the damage inflicted by Margaret Thatcher.

Homes for the Future

The document Homes for the Future, more affordable sustainable (9) 2007, foreword by Yvette Cooper outlines detailed plans for communities and plans for building expansion not seen for forty years. A future Labour government must be prepared to make funds available for the investment our communities need, this time not for the benefit of private enterprise, but for people, because it is they who matter, and it is they who are the source of wealth and mutual benefit regardless of contradictions of Conservative propaganda.

Land left, unused yet fit for building should be made available for building, not left waiting to turn a profit. Investment should be made to modernise old housing stock, by retrofitting modern insulation, and fitting renewable energy micro-generation, for example solar panels.

We should invest in new-builds; well-designed homes, effectively insulated by modern building materials, truly sustainable homes powered by renewable energy and if these are to be collectively owned it would provide a win-win situation. Planning should encompass existing communities, equipped with the facilities residents need, and of a sustainable design. Such communities will be infinitely more suitable than building dense housing devoid of any infrastructure in order to maximise profits.

Rather than “investment” in homes, and a mortgage which feeds hidden bank accounts in tax havens around the world, this would be a real investment in the future and for which our grandchildren will thank us. The result would be a better, happier life for everyone.

References and Further Reading

1. 1945 General Election – Wikipaedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Kingdom_general_election,_19451.

2. From warfare to welfare:

3. Living Back-to Back, by Chris Upton, published Phllimore

4. http://www.defendcouncilhousing.org.uk/dch/…/GraysonHistory.doc

4. GraysonHistory-Housing: pdf document John Grayson

5. CLASS: Think Piece Time to step in http://classonline.org.uk/pubs/item/time-to-step-in Time_to_step_in-James_Murray Download:

6 . Government reviews energy and disability regulation in order to boost building boom

7. Why Neighbourhoods Remain Poor pdf document: Barrow Cadbury Trust: Deprivation, Place and People in Birmingham

8. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/finance/personalfinance/9633580/Use-pension-funds-to-boost-housing-report-says.html Use pension funds to boost housing.

9. Communities and Local Government : Homes for the Future, more affordable more sustainable

10. Poor Brum, Think Left

11. Time to consider brick bonds , Think Left

12. This isn’t Dickens, It’s Today: Winter’s Cold, Homeless and Hungry, Think Left

13. Shelter: The causes of Homelessness

14. Homelessness kills – Executive Summary An analysis of the mortality of homeless people

15. No Green Coalition Efficien-City -Interactive Link , Greenpeace, Think Left

16. The New Housing Plan is Flawed, Think Left

17 Richard Murphy: The Courageous State

Update: Stop press:

18: ONS Figures for Construction Industry Q 3 2012 (pdf) 9th November 2012

19. BBC Report :Construction activity fell 13.1% in September from a year ago, ONS figures show. BBC 9th November 2012