Abolishing the Right to Buy is not “a Marxist attitude”. It is just plain common sense

Here is the text of a letter I had published in today’s Brighton Argus (18th January 2018) in response to a letter from the former Conservative councillor, Geoff Wells defending the Right to Buy.

Dear Sir

Former mayor, Geoff Wells, says that “taking away a person’s right to buy their council home is a Marxist attitude” (16th January 2018).

I think he is wrong.  The Right to Buy enables the lucky few to profiteer from the very homes society provided for them when they themselves were once in housing need.

A former council flat in London, near Covent Garden, was sold for £1.21 million, nine times the £130,000 that the seller paid in 1990 under Right to Buy legislation. This equated to a profit of over £1 million.

It created a millionaire of someone whose only contribution was once being in housing need and unable to afford to rent or buy a home.

The Right to Buy denies current and future generation the opportunity to get housed in homes they might afford.  40% of homes sold through the Right to Buy have ended up in the private rented sector.

Rents on these former council houses are four times the level charged when the council was landlord, and the tax payer ends up footing the bill for those on housing benefit.  And remember, of new claims for housing benefit, over 90% come from people in low paid employment.

The Right to Buy does nothing to meet housing need, doesn’t help those in the private rented sector, and denies tax payers a proper return on our investment.

Abolishing the Right to Buy is not “Marxist”.  It is just plain common sense.

Yours faithfully

Andy Winter

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Useless announcements in Westminster and Whitehall that will do nothing to address the housing crisis

“Never in the history of housing policy, has so much been announced by so many, whose achievements are so few”, as Winston Churchill never said.

The first announcement was the new job title for Sajid Javid, the Cabinet member responsible for housing, who went from being the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government to Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government.  Could it be that the purpose was to celebrate  that Mr Javid is responsible for the worst housing crisis in living memory.

On a similar note, Mr Javid’s department, the Department for Communities and Local Government, which has always been responsible for housing, is now to be called the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government.  Please, please someone, tell me that this is more than mere window dressing, that the policies responsible for the 60% increase in homeless households since 2010/11 will change.

Receiving less publicity, and not noticed by anyone other than housing anoraks like me, was the change in the name of the Homes and Communities Agency, the government quango responsible for social housing development and regulation.  It is now to be called Homes England.

At its launch this week, Sajid Javid said: “This government is determined to build the homes our country needs and help more people get on the housing ladder. Homes England will be at the heart of leading this effort.”

Actually, that was the key purposes of the Homes and Communities Agency.  But at least we are being presented with the appearance that something is being done.  Perhaps he is hoping that we will not notice that nothing is changing at all.

Lastly, the social housing regulation function of the Homes and Communities Agency is forthwith to be known by the cunning title ‘the Regulator of Social Housing’.  Where do they get this talent?

At least Fiona MacGregor, the Executive Director of Regulation, has the honesty to set out the huge anticipated impact of these changes when she wrote in a letter to housing associations this week: “This change is to the regulator’s operating name only and does not alter our regulatory framework, approach or powers and we will continue to promote a viable, efficient and well-governed social housing sector able to deliver homes that meet a range of needs.”

Lots of people in Westminster and Whitehall have been very busy this week, earning their salaries by making sure that, at the end of the day, nothing is changing other than a few letterheads, business cards and signs outside government departments and quangos.  God forbid that they do anything meaningful to tackle the housing crisis.

Private house builder chief executive gets £110 million bonus thanks to government housing policy

If there was any reason (and there are many others) why the government should look again at council house building, it is the extreme bonus paid to the chief executive of private housebuilder, Persimmon.

Jeff Fairburn has received £50m worth of shares as part of a record-breaking bonus scheme.  In total he will get bonuses totalling £110 million.

He says he deserves his £110m because he has “worked very hard” to reinvigorate the housing market. (Some suggest that the rich need bonus incentives to work hard, while the poor need benefit cuts as an incentive to work hard).

According to Inside Housing magazine, “more than half the homes sold by York-based Persimmon last year went to help-to-buy recipients, meaning government money helped finance the sales. Persimmon’s share price has nearly tripled since help to buy was launched in April 2013.”

The Guardian newspaper has calculated that a donation of £4.6m (just 4% of Fairburn’s bonus) could provide a home for all of the 58 homeless families in York where Persimmon is based.

According to the National Audit Office (September 2017), there has been a 60% increase in households in temporary and permanent accommodation since 2010/11. That is 77,000 households including 120,000 children.

But they are the poor and they don’t really matter because Jeff Fairburn is doing ok and the Persimmon share has tripled thanks to the government’s housing policies.

And people ask why I am getting more cynical in my old age ……

Introducing our latest here today, gone tomorrow Housing Minister, Dominic Raab

In June we got our 15th housing minister since 1997 when the MP for Reading West, Alok Sharma, was appointed to replace Gavin Barwell who had lost his seat at the general election.

Today Alok Sharma moved to a new position as minister for something other than housing. Appointed to succeed him is Dominic Raab, the member of parliament for Esher and Walton. According to Wikipedia, “the constituency is in the north of Surrey, bordering Greater London, in the affluent London commuter belt. It is partly rural, with heathland and reservoirs, as well as towns such as Esher and Walton-on-Thames, and lower density Cobham, Claygate and Molesey and the villages of Oxshott, Thames Ditton and Hinchley Wood.”

The good news is that Mr Raab comes with a reputation for being very competent. The bad news from a housing perspective is that he is tipped to go places in government and is likely to be moved long before he will be able to bring his enormous ability to bear on the housing crisis.

It doesn’t have to be so. He could tell the Prime Minister that he will not accept any promotion or move this side of the 2022 general election so that he can make a difference. He could also lead by example by saying he will support housing development, ideally for social housing, in the “lower density Cobham, Claygate and Molesey”.

I won’t hold my breath. I am not sure whether I will bother reading the inevitable profile and interview with the new minister that will appear in Inside Housing magazine because he will be gone before I have reached the end of the third paragraph.

So what do we know about Mr Raab. According to the website ‘They Work for You’, Mr Raab:

  • voted for reducing housing benefit for social tenants deemed to have excess bedrooms (which Labour describe as the “bedroom tax”)
  • consistently voted against raising welfare benefits at least in line with prices
  • consistently voted against paying higher benefits over longer periods for those unable to work due to illness or disability
  • consistently voted for a reduction in spending on welfare benefits
  • almost always voted against increasing the tax rate applied to income over £150,000
  • almost always voted against a banker’s bonus tax
  • consistently voted against an annual tax on the value of expensive homes (popularly known as a mansion tax)
  • almost always voted for reducing capital gains tax

Why should any of that suggest that he won’t move heaven and earth to help the poorest of the poor, to ensure that council homes with social rents are built, and to ensure that “the operationally messy, socially unfair and unforgiving” universal credit (as described by former PM, John Major) does not continue to wreck the private rented sector and lead tenants into unprecedented levels of rent arears and debt?

Answers on a postcard and sent to anyone but me.

(This Post was originally entitled ‘How can those interested in social housing and the wellbeing of tenants have any confidence in the new housing ministers, Dominic Raab?’ but I preferred the title used above)

House price inflation is a disaster for the people of Brighton and Hove

There was an article in the Property News section of the Brighton Argus on  4thJanuary that looked at house price increases. Under the heading “House price winners”, Brighton was reported as having come third in the list of the U.K.’s biggest house price winners over the last year, with an 11.4% rise.

I take a different view. The overheated housing market has meant that homes in the city are increasingly unaffordable for ordinary people. Rather than saying Brighton came third from top, I would suggest that for most people Brighton came third from bottom.

I guess it is a question of perspective between those people who see housing as investment opportunities and those of us who see housing as where people live.

House price inflation is a disaster for the people of Brighton and Hove.

The Right to Buy is becoming a political hot potato in Brighton and Hove

The Brighton Argus through its local government reporter, Joel Adams, has done us a favour by getting information through a Freedom of Information Act request on Right to Buy in Brighton an Hove.

Over the last ten years, 418 homes were sold outright through the Right to Buy, and a further 499 were leased to Brighton and Hove Seaside Community Homes.

In justifying the extension of Right to Buy to housing associations, the government has promised a one for one replacement programme of homes sold. Over the last ten years, just 46 homes were build to compensate for the hundreds that have been sold. Almost half of homes sold through the Right to Buy end up in the private rented sector with rents four times the rents charged when they were social housing.

I can’t say that I have ever been a big fan of the Right to Buy. I had an Opinion column in the Argus in 2015 that asked anyone to tell me why the Right to Buy was morally justifiable, economically sensible, or politically acceptable.

I spoke at the Hove Civic Society in 2015 arguing the need to end, not extend, the Right to Buy.

I wrote in item in the Argus in April 2015 expressing my opposition to the Right to Buy. I wrote: “The Right to Buy doesn’t help private renters.  It doesn’t help people on council waiting lists.  It doesn’t help young people living with their parents. It does nothing to address affordability.  The £11.6 billion subsidy could achieve so much more.”

Julia Hartley-Brewer is not, as far as I am aware, a paid up and active member of Momentum. She summed up her concerns about extending the Right to Buy to tenants of housing associations: “Financially speaking, the scheme is nonsensical. Practically speaking, it is close to absurd.  When a (housing association or council) home is sold, it is lost forever to future generations”.

It was interesting that in a recent housing statement from the government, reference to extending Right to Buy to housing associations was absent, suggesting that this (one of the government’s ‘Zombie’ policies) was ill-conceived and undeliverable. I have long opposed the extension of the Right to Buy, and BHT was one of the very few housing associations that did not support the ‘voluntary’ extension imposed on housing associations by the government, sadly with the shameful collusion of the National Housing Association (which experienced repetitional damage and is now looking rather ridiculous as a result). I have previously called on the NHF to apologise for its role in this fiasco.

The leader of the Conservative Group on Brighton and City Council, Cllr Tony Janio, is someone who I like and have respect for. He brings a passion and rigour to his politics, and is never afraid to say what he thinks. In Tuesday’s Argus, he put up a characteristically bullish defence of the Right to Buy and attacked the Labour and Green parties for their opposition, relying on the figures obtained by the Argus, to “mock” (according to the Argus) the “moaning” of Labour over this policy.

Labour and the Greens proposed the suspension of the Right to Buy at a Council meeting in December.  The motion was proposed by Labour Cllr Clare Moonan.

I don’t take a party political view on the Right to Buy. I think it just wrong, economically and morally. On this matter Cllr Janio and I could not disagree more. While he may be right on many things, he is wrong on this, and I believe that it is only a matter of time before the policy will be ended once and for all.

Why do we have such a housing crisis in Brighton and Hove?

There are many reasons for Brighton and Hove’s housing crisis, including the limited availability of land, the impact of the housing policies of successive governments that have failed to prioritise and invest in low cost rented accommodation, the impact of the growing student population, and the rise in single person households.

But one of the main factors must be the inward migration of the DFL’s – those moving down from London.

It was reported this week in the Guardian and locally by Brighton and Hove News that over 5,000 Londoners migrated to the City last year. This is the highest level anywhere in the country second only to those moving from London to Birmingham.

These are affluent people, not the small handful of homeless people that tend to end up living on the streets of Brighton and Hove.

Oxford University professor, Danny Dorling, who compiled the report on ‘internal migration’, described the damage done to communities by the scale of internal immigration. He said: “Creating a sense of community again will take a long time and requires two or three generations to be able to stay in one place. The immigrants who have the greatest effect on life in England are internal immigrants, English-born affluent people with a large deposit.”

The consequence of this is increased demand on housing and a significant inflationary impact on house prices. There is nothing that Brighton and Hove City Council can do to reverse this trend.

It requires government action to empower local authorities to control the housing market, perhaps by a massive windfall tax on homes sold to those moving into the City, the proceeds of which could be used to alleviate housing need locally. But I can’t see this or any government being willing to take such a bold move.