What future for Council Housing?

Council housing and the housing crisis

A book by Martin Wicks

Everybody knows there is a housing crisis. However, it is usually written about by academics or professionals who work in the housing sector. Tenant voices are rarely heard. What Future for Council Housing? is written by a Council tenant and reflects the work and ideas of Swindon Tenants Campaign Group which has successfully resisted the sell-off of our homes; managed to secure more money for their maintenance; and challenged the dominant policies responsible for the crisis.

What Future for Council Housing? is a contribution to the local and national debate on housing policy. It begins with a detailed account of the ‘Swindon Housing Vote’ in which tenants decisively rejected ‘transfer’ of their homes to a Housing Association with a 72% ‘No’ vote on a 65.6% turnout. It gives a blow by blow account of the dirty tricks of the Council and how the campaign challenged their propaganda. The experience is rich in ideas that can hopefully be used by other tenants facing a ballot. (Download a PDF here whatfuture  or read on below)

The book then explains the new Housing Finance system, ‘self-financing’, which loaded many Councils with bogus ‘housing debt’ (£138.6 million in the case of Swindon) redistributing it from the national level. It analyses the new system and explains why this ‘debt’ should be written off.

It records the resistance of STCG against the implementation of coalition housing policies, explaining the implications of those such as the ‘bedroom tax’ and ‘flexible tenancies’. It explodes some of the myths peddled about Council Housing and Council tenants.

Tackling Swindon’s Housing Crisis provides a detailed analysis of the housing situation in Swindon and puts forward some practical proposals for tackling that crisis, both in the ‘social housing’ and private rented sectors. Swindon Council admits that each year there are 800 too few “affordable homes” built, yet it continues to support government policies which exacerbate the crisis, such as “right to buy” with increased discounts and the introduction of “affordable rent” (AR – up to 80% of market rents).

Promoting unsustainable debt examines ‘Help to Buy’, and exposes the hidden costs for home buyers which the mass media hasn’t noticed.

The affordable homes programme explains the practical consequences of a programme with less than 12% grant for each home, with costs passed onto tenants in higher rents. The programme obliges Councils to convert existing Council homes from ‘social rent’ to AR to pay for the new building.

What is the affordable rent model? explains the idiocy of increasing ‘social rent’ to AR with the result of driving up the Housing Benefit bill.

Democracy Swindon Style: One Lead Member one vote reports on the delegation of power to determine the town’s housing strategy to a single Councillor, thereby avoiding a discussion and vote at a full Council meeting. Even worse, those affected by the crisis have been denied the opportunity to express their opinions. The Council did not even issue a press release on its ‘consultation’.

The case of the £75,000 a year straw man challenges the introduction of means testing and  spurious arguments about rich tenants used to justify it. We examine the circumstances and composition of existing tenants rather than imagined ones like the £75,000 a year man desperate to become a Council tenant rather than to buy a house.

The disappearing waiting list shows how Swindon Council has used central government policy to drive the housing waiting list down from over 16,000 households to only 3,299 in no time at all, without rehousing a single person!

A collective solution to a social problem concludes the book with an up-to-date assessment of the housing crisis and the threat to the future of Council Housing. It poses a break with the Thatcherite consensus, calling for, amongst other things an end to ‘right to buy’, and the writing off of the bogus housing ‘debt’; a measure which would give Swindon Council over £9 million more a year for the upkeep of their housing stock and for new build.

Of course, this requires a fundamental change in national government policy. We call for the trades unions affiliated to Labour to press for a break from the Party’s support for ‘right to buy’, their worship of home ownership, and for national funding of a new Council House building programme.

The book, around 130 pages, will be available in April of this year. In order to estimate how many copies to print we are asking for trades unionists and tenants to indicate their interest in buying a copy/copies. It will cost £5 plus postage.

Please email martin.wicks@btinternet.com  or ring  07786394593, to register your interest.

For a pre-printing order, post-free, send a cheque for £5 per copy, payable to Martin Wicks, to:

Martin Wicks, c/o The Shop (Resource Centre), Cavendish Square, Swindon SN3 2LZ


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