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A Housing Bill that does nothing to tackle the housing crisis we face

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If there’s one thing the Tories seem to be good at, it’s rewriting the dictionary. A few years ago, if you heard the word ‘affordable’ you’d be forgiven for assuming it meant something an average person could afford. Then along came George Osborne with his new ‘affordable rents’ of 80% of market rent that bore no relation to people’s ability to pay. In high value areas like ours, almost 60% of households can’t afford to rent a 2 or 3 bedroom so-called ‘affordable’ home.

His latest wheeze is the ‘starter’ home. Again, you’d be forgiven for thinking a starter home was one that an average family buying their first place could afford a mortgage on. Instead, at up to £450,000 in London and £250,000 elsewhere, it’s anything but. Analysis by Shelter shows that families earning the government’s ‘national living wage’ (and surprise surprise, that isn’t the same as the actual living wage) will only be able to afford a ‘starter home’ in 2% of local authority areas. Separate research by Savills suggested there isn’t a single area of London where buyers on a median income would be able to purchase an average starter home.

This is a scandal because we have a housing crisis that is real. The people who turn up at my advice surgeries living in terrible overcrowding or struggling to pay their rent need homes they can afford to live in. The young professionals who rent here but despair at ever being able to afford to buy need ‘starter’ homes their wages can obtain a mortgage on.

I was in the Chamber on Tuesday night as Parliament debated the Conservative’s Housing & Planning Bill until after 2am. It includes some positive measures on rogue landlords, licensing schemes and improved enforcement but overall it’s a mess of a Bill that will lead to a huge loss of genuinely affordable homes and keep home ownership in areas like ours out of reach for many ordinary families. It will end secure council tenancies, a foolish move that will do nothing to provide long term security for families and could act as a disincentive for anyone to improve their circumstances.

I’m particularly concerned that proposals to fund these ‘starter homes’ through developers’ planning obligations and promote them over other types of housing will leave local authorities forced to provide them at the expense of badly needed new low-rent homes. That’s the last thing our area needs.

I will be arguing against the Government’s forced sale of council houses in high value areas like ours, with the proceeds snatched by central government in order to pay for their unnecessary ‘right-to-buy’ extension. It’s essential that any money raised here in Hornsey & Wood Green is re-invested locally on replacement affordable housing including a guaranteed like-for-like home.

Tuesday was the first day of the report stage of the Bill and Labour proposed a number of amendments including one that would impose a planning obligation requiring local first time buyers to get first refusal on a proportion of new homes in the area. It was a sensible and effective proposal that would make sure local communities benefited from development yet the Tories opposed it.

As the Bill progresses Labour will continue to push for crucial amendments that will protect our genuinely affordable housing at a time when it has never been more needed.

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Catherine West MP

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