Shelter, housing is a basic human need, one that capitalism has turned into a money making crisis of unparalleled proportions and nowhere so than in London. Housing and Planning Minister, Brandon Lewis wants the demolition of London’s housing estates and their replacement with owner occupied ‘city villages’. It’s a scheme the Tories have long favoured; 13 London Boroughs have already this year (June) met property developers and speculators at an exclusive trade fair at Berkeley Square to make deals to pull down the estates and build homes for sale or private rent. The thirteen London Boroughs that have taken part are Barnet, Brent, Camden, Ealing, Hackney, Haringey, Hounslow, Kingston, Lewisham, Richmond, Southwark, Wandsworth and Westminster. Tenants are, of course, kept out of all meetings. Cash-strapped councils are eagerly looking for ways of saving money. By persuading them to sell their estates and land, the Tories are giving them a solution that will be extremely costly for the rest of us.
By destroying council housing, the Tories are ‘socially cleansing’ working class people out of the capital. Most can’t afford to buy, especially not at London prices which have hit a new record high (over £500,000 for an average home). The result will be even greater pressure on the private rented sector. This will mean higher rents and more street homelessness (which has risen 55% in the past four years). At the same time, Housing Associations will be forced to sell off their best “properties”. This will further reduce the number of homes available for working people.
In addition, Brandon Lewis has made it now easily done to convert old factories, warehouses and offices to be converted into housing. First introduced in 2013, temporarily permitted development rights have enabled offices to be converted to new homes without having to apply for planning permission. It has meant that between April 2014 and June this year, almost 4,000 conversions were given the go-ahead. These rights according to the ministry were set to expire on 30 May 2016 – potentially introducing a raft of unnecessary red tape and bureaucracy that would have hampered the conversion of underused office buildings and slowed down the delivery of thousands of new homes to be sold on the open market and keeping at bay any interference from hostile local authorities and totally ignoring the chronic shortfall and deficit of good quality council housing, that would if only available, start to make an indent and address the needs of London's 4 percent currently languishing and forced to suffer as they remain in an unpleasant place and situation - on the council waiting list.
Lewis announced that these permitted development rights will now be made permanent. In addition, those who already have permission will have 3 years in which to complete the change of use and the rights will in future allow the demolition of office buildings and a new building for residential use.
In addition, new permitted development rights will enable the change of use of light industrial buildings and launderettes to new homes.
So when the Tories made an election pledge to extend the right to buy to housing associations, nobody thought they’d really be stupid enough to actually do it. But it has gone ahead, and housing associations have reached a back door deal to push it through.
What will it mean? Well, much less social housing for sure. There are 2,343,000 housing association properties and it is the biggest sector providing social housing. It is estimated that 24,000 tenants a year will be able to afford to buy their homes with an average discount of £63,271, which is 35% below market price. The government’s theory is that it will increase the number of homeowners (which they’re desperate to do since home ownership is dramatically declining) and (somehow) double the number of homes available, if replacement homes are built, though it’s very vague on this last point, the key word here being ‘if’. The National Housing Federation (NHF) has calculated that if all housing association tenants who could buy their own homes did so, the cost would be £11.2bn.