On Sunday, Councillors Leah Levane, Tania Charman and Andy Batsford spoke to the Labour Women’s Forum about the housing problems people in Hastings & Rye are facing.
Cllr Leah Levane summarises the conversation:
Housing is certainly one of the major issues in the town and it is immensely frustrating that we have so little social housing available to meet people’s needs. Three wards, including Castle, that I represent, have more than 60% of households living in privately rented accommodation. Where people need secure and affordable homes, they are far too often in inadequate, overcrowded and/or insecure housing. The law still allows “no fault evictions” and many tenants are on rolling six month contracts. In addition, the low wages in the town mean that many – whether working or unemployed – are reliant on Universal Credit and only one landlord out of every 10 will rent to UC claimants.
The Council is doing what it can to address this, for example with a licensing scheme that requires a decent and safe quality of housing, but we lack the powers and the resources to insist on long term tenancies at genuinely affordable rents.
We are supporting moves to develop a forum for private renters to bring their concerns and problems to. We want people to know their rights, and we are learning from existing forums, such as those in London and Brighton. It is long overdue.
If you’re as old as me though (!) you will probably be aware of how much more difficult it has become to keep house and home together. When my newly acquired husband and I moved into a flat in St Leonards, a typical council worker’s wage (there used to be a lot of those) was £60 a week, and the rent on our spacious, two-bedroom flat was £12. There was no end-date on our tenancy. My daughter was born there, and we stayed until we were able to move into a house. Nowadays, rents are typically over two-thirds of most people’s earnings, and there is always the expense of yet another forced move on the horizon.
Here’s Leah’s take on the national situation:
Nationally homelessness has doubled since 2010 and this is reflected locally. Add to that the insecurity of tenure and the impact on local people’s health is tangible. For me, the changes are largely due to the shift (which started some years before 2010) from housing being about creating homes for people to housing as an investment opportunity – the expression “safe as houses” used to mean solidity and security, more recently it has come to mean safe investment and, in many cases, extremely profitable investment.
We need a completely different approach to be able to deal with the housing crisis and this will require national legislation and even a cultural change. Other countries that have capitalist economies, such as Germany, have very high levels of renting, including private renting, but still manage to have secure tenancies and controlled rents so that people are not paying over 50% of incomes in rent and, of course, benefit levels in countries such as Germany, cover the actual cost of housing, rather than a putative element.
We all know what we really need – a Labour government that will facilitate and properly fund the building and maintenance of council houses, and get control of those spiralling rents.
Thanks to Ann Kramer for the photos