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Liberal Democrats call for affordable and secure homes for all

September 26, 2018 9:26 PM
By Rugby Lib Dems

Yellow doorLiberal Democrat conference on 17 September 2018 passed a motion calling for the Government to ensure everyone has a right to affordable, safe and secure homes in England.

The motion included a commitment to build at least 50,000 new social homes for rent every year, as part of the long-standing commitment of the Liberal Democrats to build 300,000 homes a year over the next decade.

It also called for better environmental standards for housing, to reduce both fuel poverty and greenhouse gas emissions, and to deliver more security for tenants in the private rented sector through increasing landlords' notice period from 2 months to 6 months and an expansion of the 'rent to buy' scheme.

The creation of a British Housing Company which would acquire unused land for building through compulsory acquisition was also incorporated into the motion.

Commenting, Liberal Democrat Housing Spokesperson Wera Hobhouse MP said:

"Radical action must be taken to ensure people have the right to live in an affordable and secure home. With our country in the midst of a housing crisis and homelessness at a record high, the Government's inaction is a dereliction of duty.

"If we are to truly tackle the housing crisis, we must embark on a large programme to rebuild our social housing stock. We must also alleviate the insecurity faced by many tenants in the private rented sector such as through giving tenants a minimum of six months' notice before they have to leave the property."

LGA Liberal Democrat Leader Councillor Howard Sykes said:

"The housing crisis is a human crisis and this country must demand better of its Government. As a starting point, it needs to free up local authorities to invest in council housing and reform the Right to Buy".

Conference notes that:

  • I. Homelessness is at record levels with rough sleeping rising, large numbers of young people sofa hopping and tens of thousands of homeless families trapped in unsuitable temporary accommodation.
  • II. Over the last decade Government subsidies for rent through housing benefit have tripled to around £25 billion (of which £10 billion goes to private landlords) when subsidies to increase the supply of social housing have declined to around £1 billion a year.
  • III. The ratio of house prices to gross average earnings per head is at record levels of around 10 to 1 and that as a result home ownership has become unaffordable for most young people and for most people on average incomes.
  • IV. Too many people have been forced into the private rented sector which now provides one fifth of all homes in the UK, a third of which fail to meet the Decent Homes Standard.
  • V. Government policies to promote owner occupation through taxpayer subsidies have boosted demand and house prices without effective measures to increase supply and affordability.
  • VI. The number of new social homes has contracted from over 200,000 a year at its peak to the unacceptable level of just 1,400 social home starts in 2017/18.
  • VII. The market in land does not work in the public interest, with large builders getting unearned rewards for hoarding land and restricting supply with house prices forced upwards thus making homes unaffordable for most first-time buyers, and the present system of viability assessments for affordable housing being too weighted in favour of the developer leading to inflated land prices at the expense of infrastructure, affordable housing, and design quality.
  • VIII. One and a half million council homes have been sold under the Right to Buy with only one replacement for every five sold.

Conference believes that:

  • a) Government housing policies have increased social, financial and inter-generational inequalities.
  • b) There are still too many long-term empty homes which are seen as financial investments rather than places to live.
  • c) Local government can play a critical role in achieving the number of homes required by directing the use of publicly owned land before disposal for affordable and social housing and by being able to borrow both to buy land for housing and to build it.
  • d) In the private rented sector, there should be:
    • A system of mandatory licensing with a publicly available database of rogue landlords
    • Promotion of longer private tenancies with inflation or wage-linked rents.
    • A right to buy (or first refusal) for sitting tenants when a landlord sells.
    • A cap on upfront tenant deposits.
    • A ban letting agents' fees.
  • e) Green space in towns and urban areas and green field between towns are vital components of our quality of life and provide essential protection for neighbourhoods against urban sprawl.
  • f) Poor quality or disused land (for example, former petrol stations and warehouses) defined as green belt may be suitable for development as part of local or neighbourhood planning.
  • g) 'Rent to Own' homes would enable many younger people to get on the housing ladder without a deposit by renting from housing associations at a market level rent giving them an increasing stake in their property over time.
  • i) Second home owners should always pay their fair share of local taxation for the provision of local services.
  • j) Fiscal incentives could help to encourage older owner occupiers to downsize their properties and should therefore be considered further.

Conference calls for:

  1. The creation of a British Housing Company as a dedicated, arms-length, not for profit non-governmental body to acquire land of low amenity at current use value through compulsory acquisition to reduce prohibitive land costs and excessive developer profits.
  2. Removal of the cap on local authority borrowing.
  3. The construction of 50,000 social homes for rent per year by both councils and housing associations rising as soon as practicable to 100,000 a year.
  4. Local authorities to have the power to decide on the availability of Right to Buy in their areas and for Right to Buy receipts to be reinvested in social housing.
  5. A big expansion in 'Rent to Own' where occupants pay rent to housing associations, in return for an increasing stake in the property over time.
  6. Higher quality, safety and environmental standards in the existing housing stock including the retrofitting of 4 million homes to higher standards.
  7. An increase to 500% in council tax levied where homes are being deliberately bought as investment properties and left empty for long periods with a stamp duty surcharge on overseas residents purchasing such properties.
  8. The Government to deliver its commitment to building 300,000 homes a year by:
    • i) ensuring the workforce in the construction industry is sufficient to build them
    • ii) encouraging new building techniques to build quality new homes in shorter timescales.
  9. Local government to adopt a civic house building model working in partnership with developers and supported by a planning system which is less about gatekeeping planning applications and more about creating places in which people want to live, work and play.