Wednesday, November 16, 2005

what is going on with council housing?

The right to buy council houses in parts of the Highlands has been suspended to protect affordable stock. East Renfrewshire is the first council in Scotland to be given permission to ban council house sales, a policy that was introduced in the 1980s by Thatcher.

Communities Minister Malcolm Chisholm said, "There is compelling evidence of substantial pressures on affordable housing in the areas the council identified."

Margaret Davidson, Highland Council's housing convener, said the move was driven by a severe shortage of affordable housing in many areas. The right-to-buy policy in Scotland continues to drain housing stock of about 11,000 homes a year, with over 440,000 lost in the 25 years since it was introduced.

Why the hell isn't this suspension being extended throughout the UK?

In England, the number of families waiting for a council house has soared by more than 50 per cent during Labour's time in power, and now stands at 1.5million.

Only one new social housing unit is built for every five sold off under the right-to-buy scheme, this means that the supply of council properties for families on the waiting list is dwindling every year.

In my home town of Doncaster, the Council owns and manages 25,000 properties – houses, bungalows and flats. Nearly half (42%) of Council tenants are over 60 years of age and over half (53%) of tenants say they have a long-standing illness, disability or infirmity. The Council currently re-lets 2,700 properties a year.

Last year the Council sold off or disposed of 1,737 homes - 5.5 per cent of its stock. 1,685 individuals or families are now classed as homeless, three years ago the number had been just 375. The number of people in temporary accommodation waiting to be allocated homes has also risen while waiting times increased to as long as five months.

There are 13,080 applicants on the waiting list (December 2004) compared to just 5,943 in September 2003.

And now the housing stock has been transferred to an ALMO after consultations and a ballot.

In November 2000, the tenants were told by Gary Allen, the Head of Housing Services, 'Remember - The tenants of Doncaster will have the final say in what happens to council housing in the future. Changes to the ownership of council homes cannot happen without the support of tenants. Where there is a proposal for any change of ownership, Government rules require that tenants are balloted and that there is a majority decision in favour of the proposal. It is this ballot that will decide whether or not the Council will proceed with that option. The Council will work closely with tenants to decide on the best option for Doncaster, but tenants will have the final say on which option is introduced. Whatever option is chosen the council will ensure that tenants rights will be protected, rents will be kept affordable and council housing will meet the standards of the 21st century.'

In 2005, the elected Mayor, Martin Winter, said, 'You told me that the majority of you (78%) wanted the Council to continue to own your homes – you wanted the “stay as we are” option.'

But bugger it, he's gone for the ALMO.

How is this supposed to help the provision of affordable housing? After a specified period, the ALMO will be able to increase rents to the 'economic' level. Currently this would mean a 100% increase (if privately rented accommodation is compared with council rentals.)

The measures to privatise the housing stock, introduced by Thatcher, and now strengthened by her bastard son Blair, will only serve to increase the financial pressures on the working class and shore up the profitability of the housing market for the privileged.

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