Safe and Affordable
Housing for all in Hackney
Hackney Green Party is calling for the cancellation of rent debt for Hackney’s 34,000 private renters, many of whom have gone into arrears with their landlords because of reduced incomes during the Covid-19 lockdown period.
Hackney is one of the most expensive places to rent in the UK, with landlords receiving £736 per month from the average flat-share tenant.
Tenants in Hackney are strapped for cash at the best of times; a recent survey found that the average renter spends a staggering 59% of their monthly income on rent. With incomes reduced to 80% for workers on the government’s furlough scheme, many are struggling to make ends meet and are going into rent arrears, putting themselves at risk of eviction.
As Green Party MP Caroline Lucas outlines in Green Steps to Better, safe and affordable housing is a basic human right. Currently, there is vast inequality between those who own a home and those who don’t. This leaves the fundamental right to a roof over our heads in the hands of a dysfunctional market, with thousands ending up homeless. Everyone deserves a safe, affordable place to live and we can’t address unfairness and inequality in our society until we start treating all our houses as homes.
These principles are a necessary part of the country’s response to the Covid-19 crisis. The Green Party’s housing policy recognises that the inadequate and inequitable provision of housing in Britain today is the result of inequalities in access to resources – particularly land – the inability of the free market to meet diverse housing needs, and a lack of investment in public housing. Successive government policy has encouraged the treatment of housing as a form of speculative investment, rather than a basic requirement for individual and social well-being.
Some areas of the UK suffer from severe housing shortages, while large quantities of housing lay vacant in others. Under-occupation of housing sits side-by-side with overcrowding. Severe problems such as rough sleeping are highly concentrated in a small number of local authorities, for reasons that go well beyond the inadequacies in local housing policy. For these reasons, housing policy cannot meet local housing needs in isolation, and must be fully integrated with other social, economic and environmental policies.
Much of the country’s housing stock is inefficient in terms of energy and water usage, making our homes a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, which in turn contribute to the climate emergency. This also causes high levels of fuel poverty, and contributes to physical and mental health problems. Improving the energy efficiency of all homes must be a priority.
Private rented sector
The private rented sector has a role in meeting housing needs, particularly in the short term while the supply of social and co-operative housing is insufficient. But the Green Party believes that that the private sector is failing to provide secure, affordable and high standard homes for those who need them most.
We want to see the phasing out of Assured Shorthold Tenancies, to be replaced with a new Stable Rental Tenancy, which would recognise the principle that the property is the home of the tenant first, and an asset of the landlord second. This would include the following provisions:
- Security of tenure, during which time the tenant can end the tenancy with two months’ notice. The reasons a landlord can end a tenancy are set out below.
- The abolition of section 21 “no fault eviction” powers for landlords. The landlord may only end the tenancy 1) in order to sell the property (with proof of purchase), 2) to move into the property, or 3) where there has been a serious breach of the contract.
- Rents should be controlled. The Green Party would aim for controls to achieve a ‘Living Rent’, such that median local rents would take up no more than 35% of the local median take-home pay. In implementing any controls, we would strike a balance between affordability and predictability for tenants, on one hand, and the landlords’ need to invest in their homes and make a reasonable profit, on the other.
To tackle rogue and exploitative landlords, the Green Party would simplify and toughen up the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS), ensure local authorities dedicate adequate resources to proactively enforce it, and introduce a national landlord licensing scheme, with the enforcement of licenses operated by local authorities and punitive penalties for landlords who fail to gain a license or meet the HHSRS requirements. We would also tackle landlords converting homes into unsuitable dwellings and then obtaining a Lawful Development Certificate by giving local authorities 10 years to take enforcement action, rather than 4 years as at present.
Discrimination within the private rented sector is a significant problem. The Green Party would make it illegal to discriminate against tenants who receive housing benefit, and scrap requirements for landlords to check the immigration status of tenants.
Co-operative forms of home, land ownership and management would be supported and prioritised in housing strategies where they improve access to secure, long-term affordable homes. These can engender increased satisfaction, pride in the community, enhanced training and employment opportunities, and a greater degree of enfranchisement for tenants.
To support and promote housing co-operatives, the Green Party would set-up Co-operative Housing Agencies at the regional or county level, as appropriate. These would provide technical support in areas such as legislation, business planning, governance, accounting, land acquisition and development, and provide seedcorn funding to communities wishing to establish a new co-operative. These will be run according to co-operative principles with membership drawn from existing co-operatives.
The Green Party recognises the benefits and risks of citizens owning their own homes, but we would not provide subsidies such as mortgage relief to owner occupiers or buy-to-let landlords.
Support for ‘low cost home ownership’ schemes such as Shared Ownership would be phased out. These often represent poor value for money, tie occupants into uncompetitive mortgages and the properties can be difficult to sell. They would be replaced by co-operative home ownership models and in the long term made unnecessary by policies to bring down prices such as Land Value Taxation. Existing shared ownership leaseholders who are evicted would be entitled to their share of the market value of the property.