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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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.

Graffiti and Tagging: An Attack on Services for Rough Sleepers

One of my posts from the last year that attracted quite a response was in September when I wrote about graffiti.  The post resulted in wider media coverage including an appearance on television news.

Today I walked past my office in London Road to discover that we have been the target of some mindless idiots who have tagged walls, the front door, even a window.

We will, of course, get it cleaned off, but it will cost.  The money we spend, which will run into several hundred Pounds, if not over £1,000, could have been used to provide services at First Base Day Centre.  In this instance, tagging is a direct attack on services being provided to rough sleepers.

I hope those responsible feel proud of what they have done.

 

Brighton Housing Trust launches Christmas Appeal for First Base Day Centre

We have launched our annual Christmas Appeal for First Base Day Centre with the publication of a disturbing film about the invisibility of homeless people. The film can be viewed here.

The film, produced at no cost to BHT by local film company, Big Egg Films, captures the invisibility, loneliness and sadness experienced by rough sleepers, particularly at Christmas.

This year we have had a big focus on women and homelessness.  The report we published in the autumn written by Cathy Bunker, quoted Jo, a rough sleeper, who said ‘Everyone’s looking but they are not looking at you, they’re looking through you like you’re not there.’

We aim to make Christmas a little bit more bearable for those with nowhere to call home.  But rough sleeping isn’t just about Christmas, and the funds we raise at this time of the year helps us to work with people living on the streets throughout the year.

First Base offers a range of services to support people who are sleeping rough or who are insecurely housed in Brighton and Hove.  We provide food, hot drinks, showers, clean and dry clothes, and support to get off the streets.

First Base also provides opportunities for work experience and learning.  In partnership with other agencies, a range of services are provided for our clients including dentistry, podiatry, nursing interventions, mental health advice and support, and accommodation and relocation services.

Last year many people who could afford it donated their Winter Fuel Allowance to BHT.  That made a huge difference and where we can we claim Gift Aid which increases the amount we receive by 25%.

I would like to thank all at Big Egg Films, who donated the film at no cost to BHT, for being so generous with their time and expertise.

Donations can be made by cheque payable to ‘Brighton Housing Trust’ and sent to me at BHT, 144 London Road, Brighton, BN1 4PH, or online.  You can also donate by text message by texting FBAS17 and an amount (e.g. £10) to 70070.

Extending the Right to Buy to housing associations is a “Zombie policy” and should be put out of its misery

Inside Housing magazine recently described the proposed extension of the Right to Buy to housing association tenants as one of the government’s ‘Zombie’ policies as ministers have no idea whatsoever how they will pay for this expensive policy that will do nothing to address the problem of supply and affordability of housing.

Sky News reported that the policy “has barely got off the ground” and that ministers have even considered dropping the policy which appeared in the 2015 Conservative Party manifesto but was absent from the manifesto for this year’s general election. Only 55 sales have been completed in a tiny number of pilot areas. (In my opinion, that is 55 sales too many).

This is a good example of ‘back of an envelope’ policy making that has become so common in housing in recent years, with the consequences so obvious for all to see. The government gave housing associations just one week to sign up to this ‘voluntary’ initiative. Government at its worst, presenting a populist agenda but failing to have the ability to deliver, disappointing all in the process.

The fact that the National Housing Federation went along with government was a low point for the NHF and its chief executive, David Orr. BHT voiced its opposition at the time, both to the policy and the way it was being imposed. On 25th September 2015 I posted ‘The National Housing Federation should be ashamed to be party to this Right to Buy agreement’.

I think the government should announce that the policy is dead in the water and apologise for wasting time and money on it. The NHF should also apologise for its collusion.

Future Funding of Specialist Supported Housing – Out of the Frying Pan and into the Fire

The government has announced today the future funding arrangements for specialist supported housing. This follows the announcement last Wednesday by the Prime Minister that the government will not be imposing a cap on charges at Local Housing Allowance levels. That decision was widely welcomed.

I am extremely worried about what has been announced regarding the funding for short-term supported housing.  It will be funded through a new ring-fenced grant to local authorities in England.

What has been announced today has the potential to be even worse for specialist supported housing.

It has the advantage of avoiding arrears mounting up if residents have to wait six weeks for universal credit to be paid. That particular problem is the creation of the government itself.

The grant will be a finite pot and while it might initially reflect the current spend on specialist supported housing, its value will be eroded in double quick time by administering authorities taking out their costs.

More significantly, it is highly unlikely that either the pot or grants paid to providers will be increased by CPI plus 1%.

If the national supported housing grant is to be ring-fenced, and absolutely it should be, how long will it be before the ring fence is removed?

The government has form on this. We used to have the Supporting People programme, but the value of this fund was eroded for the very reasons referred to above, and when the ring fence was removed, the programme dissolved into thin air.

As providers, we dealt with this creatively, using our knowledge of housing benefit regulations to maximise service charge income. Service charges reflect the actual costs of delivering a service to residents. But if no rent is being charged, and if there is no service charge element to reflect actual costs, we will nothing to fall back on.

As Mrs May hinted last Wednesday, the government clearly wants to cap the cost of service charges eligible for housing benefit, and this seems like a good opportunity while everyone is looking the wrong way and celebrating the abandonment of the LHA cap.

Unless the government guarantees the value of the ring fenced some will be maintained, that the ring fence itself will remain, and that the of the funding will increase by CPI plus 1% each year, then it will certainly be a case of out of the frying pan and into the fire.

The government is consulting on its proposals and BHT will be responding in due course.

Too many initiatives to ‘help’ rough sleepers can hinder the process to help them into treatment and housing

This morning (30th October 2017) I was on BBC Sussex talking about the plight of rough sleepers in Brighton and Hove. This item came, co-incidentally, hard on the heels of the tragic death of a 30 year old on the Brighton seafront over the weekend.

He wasn’t the first homeless person to die and he certainly won’t be the last. Last week at the BHT Staff Conference we remembered the passing of all too many men and women. Such is the tragedy of rough sleeping.

How many more deaths will be needed before the country as a whole is shamed into saying no to rough sleeping?

While rough sleeping in Brighton and Hove is obvious for all to see, it is not on the scale of London or in many cities in the United States where the numbers are in the tens of thousands in individual cities. In Brighton there are up to 150 people sleeping rough each night.

Every week I hear of a new initiative being launched or a new group being established to solve this challenge. Much time and energy is spent, but little appears to change.

In reality, a lot is happening. We provide, for example, through First Base Day Centre, the basics for survival and basic dignity – hot drinks and meals, showers, toilet facilities, clean and dry clothes and critically, with our partner organisations, we help several hundred people off the streets and into housing.

We don’t need new initiatives, or new groups, or ways to make life a bit more bearable for those on the streets. We need to help them off the streets. Some worthy and well-motivated initiatives can hinder that process.

There are some uncomfortable truths that need to be said, for example, the role of alcohol and drugs in keeping people on the streets and leading, tragically, to some deaths.

We don’t need politicians calling for places where people can inject. We need politicians calling, unambiguously, for treatment services that will help people, not least homeless people, come off and stay off drugs. The housed and the middle classes can find recovery in their own homes. Homeless people need abstinence-based residential rehabilitation services.

Members of the public are increasingly concerned about people sleeping on our streets. They want to do something, practical and immediate. The best thing that they can do is support those services that help rough sleepers to survive and help them to move off the streets.

(Update 07/11/17: The original version of this item referred to a 21 year old who had been found dead on the Brighton seafront.  I based that on local media reports.  I have been advised that he was 30 years old and, although he may well have been sleeping out that night, I believe he was actually accommodated in one of the local supported hostels at the time. Neither of these facts detract from the fact that a young man has died on our streets. I am sorry if my error caused any undue distress to those who knew and loved him).