Reflections on Withington Housing Hustings

Generation Rent hosted a housing debate with parliamentary candidates running for the Withington Constituency, at the Didsbury United Reformed Church on April the 9th.

This write up of the event is an effort to share the core debate and the points made by the candidates who attended.

Parliamentary Candidates in attendance:

Jeff Smith, Parliamentary Candidate for the Labour party

John Leech, Parliamentary Candidate for the Liberal Democrat Party

Lucy Bannister parliamentary candidate for the Green Party

Rob Manning, Conservative Party– sent apologies, 20 minutes prior to event.

 

 

Parliamentary Candidates Housing Policies

John Leech:

-10 new garden cities

-10,000 zero carbon homes per year

-Development on unwanted public sector sites.

-Review CPOs legislation and improve planning legislation as well as set up a Housing Investment Bank to provide long-term capital for major new settlements.

-Pledged to enable Local Authorities to attach planning conditions to new developments to ensure they are occupied, preventing buy to leave empty investments.

-levy up to 200% council tax on second homes and pilot new planning conditions to ensure local communities benefit from the increased housing supply.

- Pledge to make energy efficiency an infrastructure priority, to use capital funds to invest in home energy efficiency, interest free loans for energy efficiency improvements and to bring all low income homes up to Band C on an Energy Performance Certificate by 2027

- Commit to bringing all social and private rented housing up to EPC Band C by 2027, to insulate 4 million homes by 2020 and to enshrine these targets in a new Green Buildings Act.

- Voluntary register for rented property that either landlord or tenant can register the property to, which the Lib Dems say will improve enforcement and tax transparency

Lucy Bannister for the Green Party:

- Greens would reform the rental sector:

-Halve the number of empty homes and regulate the private rented sector

-A ‘living rent’ tenancy. This would include a 5 year tenancy agreement, smart rent control that caps annual rent increases that links to CPI, security of tenure and local not-for-profit letting agencies whilst abolishing letting fees and any deposit schemes that are insurance-based.

-A mandatory landlord -licensing scheme

-Overhaul of housing benefit- so that it would be brought back in line with average market rents

-Abolish the bedroom tax

-Change the definition of affordable rented housing to be linked to local median incomes and not market rents.

-Scrapping of the Help to Buy scheme, to stop rising prices from inflated demand

-Nationwide retrofit insulation programme that focuses on fuel poverty with 9 million homes treated and 2 million households brought out of fuel poverty

- Green National Infrastructure programme with £45 billion of investment from public and private sources, including carbon taxes

-Green Investment Bank to allow homes to be refurbished up to the ultra-low standard by 2020 – the delivery of which would be done through local authorities.

Jeff Smith for the Labour Party:

-Housing spending needs to be rebalanced away from housing benefit and into building more homes

-Make 3 year tenancies the norm, linking these to a ceiling on rent rises

-ban ‘excessive’ letting agent fees (Over £50)

- Ban on bedroom tax

-Decent Homes Type Benchmark for PRS homes

-National register of private landlords

-Labour would like to build at least 200,000 homes a year by 2020

- Futures Home Fund that requires £5bn of the money saved in Help to Buy ISAs to be invested in increasing housing supply

- 200,000 whole house retrofits per year, delivered street by street by local authorities and community organisations; ensuring privately rented homes meet a decency standard which will make a further 3 million households warm

-Labour also pledged to the Energy Bill Revolution alliance that they will make energy efficiency a national infrastructure priority

The Housing Q and A, notes from our live twitter feed:

Audience’s questions were taken in two’s and summarised, then fed back to the candidates:

1)      There are not just problems with empty homes but with distribution of the homes, how can they be solved?

2)      What’s your stance on rent caps and tackling homelessness in Manchester?

 

John Leech:

Asserts that Bedroom Tax inflames the issue of empty homes and it is a terrible policy, and would like to see it scrapped for both social and private tenants.

Rough sleeping and homelessness are differentiated, and we need a joined up approach to deal better with the complex causes of homelessness.

Improve the infrastructure of areas with deprived neighbourhoods to make them attractive to social tenants and rents.

 

Jeff Smith:

Labour would ensure that new builds could be paid for by a bank levy

And would tackle the empty homes issue through doubling council tax on empty homes,

And having a tiered series of rent rises, in sync with inflation with regard to the rent caps issue.

Acknowledge that most homelessness is caused by evictions in the private rented sector, and cuts have caused resource reduction for homelessness.

 

Lucy Bannister:

Greens will scrap bedroom tax, change homelessness rights for single people so that they are given equal providence to those with dependants, or classed as vulnerable and higher risk.

 

Jeff Smith responds to John Leech that there is no such thing as a bedroom tax on renters but the Local Housings Allowance, which is an entirely different thing.

 

Labour will also ensure that replacement affordable homes are built.

3)      Social Housing being bought up through Right to Buy needs to be addressed, how would you do this?

4)      How would candidates look into making it easier to adapt homes in the PRS for tenants who need disabled access?

Lucy Bannister:

Right to Buy doesn't help people who need access to social housing and therefore the Greens do not support this as a measure

 

John Leech:

Every home sold under Right to Buy should be replaced by a social home built to fill the deficit left.

More work needs to be done in providing support for the elderly and less able to move into adapted accommodation.

 

Jeff Smith:

Great shame to lose Social Housing stock to Private Landlords [through Right to Buy]

Will also try to support replacement affordable homes being built.

Design for Access Buildings, being proffered for future adaptation, but prioritise carbon efficiency over adaptation investment

 

5)      Are there some decent statistics around empty homes that are actually habitable, and not the current soundbite?

 

6)      Would you support a program of investment insulating homes across the UK, investing 1 million a year?

 

John Leech:

Supports carbon reduction measures for homes and agrees homes need to be bought up to a better standard of energy efficiency.

Mayfair in London and South Yorkshire have the empty home issue in common, while in South Manchester we see an over-supply of student properties. The worst properties in South Manchester have stayed empty and we need to get those back into use.

 

Jeff Smith: Agrees with Leech that old student properties need to be put back into use as family homes again and tackle the insulation issue via benchmarking

 

Lucy Bannister:

Property speculation is still an issue with regard to empty second homes in Manchester, taking up 2.7% of the empty properties statistic alone.

The Green Party plan to invest to insulate the poorest 9 million homes during their government term.

 

7)      Town planner asks if the infrastructure levy might be changed back, as the recent alteration under DCLG seem more expensive and counterintuitive

 

8)      How about investing in local areas to support rural builds, and make those areas more attractive to tenants?

 

 

Lucy Bannister:

More investment in infrastructure is needed in outlying areas from London.

Allow Local Authorities the decision on how to spend locally.

Public money needs to be spent far more efficiently

 

Jeff Smith:

There will be an increasing place for charging developers and for providing local infrastructure works, as West Didsbury shows.

We do have to weigh up the consequence of putting a levy on to developers who are taking a financial risk. Nell Lane was a rough area, and is an example of why investment in housing as much as the wider infrastructure is important

 

John Leech:

Not wedded to Section 106 or the community infrastructure levy, for example argued for money to be invested in the Didsbury lapwing lane parade refurbishment.

Social cleansing is happening in South Manchester as new housing is not being built here that is affordable.

Note the empty flats above shops, such as those in Chorlton’ shopping arcade, propose innovation to bring these back into use, for example.

 

Jeff Smith: Counters John Leech saying that affordable homes are being built in South Manchester, in Burnage for example, as well as other areas in Didsbury.

 

9) Will the next government commit to help lower house prices?

10) Context of ‘affordable’ housing for the population in the UK in poverty?

11) Commit to closing the gap of the rich and poor before affordable housing can be defined relatively (an extension of question 10)

 

John Leech:

Affordable for most people is not 80% of market rents (the current government definition).

We need to build more social homes and narrow the rich-poor gap

We need to ensure that the wealthiest are Paying their share, the increase in capital gains tax has ensured that the rich are paying more

 

Jeff Smith:

Reducing the deficit currently on the backs of the vulnerable, is what the current government is doing.

We will commit to end the housing crisis.

Lucy Bannister: Greens will end the housing crisis within a generation, and affordable housing needs to be provided to bring the costs down overall.

The green party will help decrease the pressure on the housing market by boosting social housing building by 500,000 in a government term.

 

Jeff Smith: Section 21 should be ended, but Labour’s manifesto hasn’t committed to ending it.

We need to tackle the unregulated rental sector via a landlord register nationally, and making it easier for local authorities to license.

Supporting renters and stopping exploitation via letting fees will be pledged to be supported by a ban on these fees by Labour

 

Lucy Bannister:

Making sure people feel secure in their tenancies is key, and the Greens support a mandatory landlord register towards this end, alongside an outright ban on the use of Section 21 (which means an end to retaliatory evictions).

 

John Leech: Also committed to ending Section 21 revenge evictions and having proper compulsory landlord licensing, and amazed that the RLA don’t support this.

Strict controls on rent ending letting fees mean these will end up going on rents.

Proper licensing and sufficient supply is the key

 

 

12) With home ownership and social renting in decline and the growth of renting, the housing system is changing.

Manchester has the fastest growing population of renters in the country, how will you support them to find affordable, decent homes, in what continues to be an unregulated sector?

 

Lucy Bannister: The Greens would respond by building half a million social homes, and create 30K jobs

Establishing a landlord register, increase supply of houses to reduce the pressure on the market and lower prices

Decrease inequality and put focus back on houses as a safe and secure space and not an investment opportunity

 

Jeff Smith:

We need to increase supply across all tenures, and improve standards for renters

Need to address the wider impacts of housing issues such as carbon emissions and health problems

 

John Leech:

Address the issue of empty homes, getting even half back into use would involve significant investment in all areas.

Have an enormous council housing building program. More social homes being available will help solve the crisis. Bedroom tax needs to go."

 

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If you enjoyed catching up on these minutes from the Hustings and would like to attend a public meeting with the new MP post-election, Generation Rent will be hosting a follow up to the housing hustings at the beginning of June.

Keep up with developments here.

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