Government plans for a ‘nationwide conversation on social housing’ could signal the beginning of the end of Canterbury’s housing crisis, according to a city councillor.
Neil Baker, chairman of Canterbury City Council’s community committee, has welcomed the announcement by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government that there will be a review of all the issues surrounding social housing as part of a Government green paper.
In a speech to the National Housing Federation conference, Sajid Javid said he and the Prime Minister were committed to improving standards.
He said: “We need to return to the time, not so very long ago, when social housing was valued.
It was treasured. Something we could all be proud of whether we lived in it or not.
“I know that’s exactly what many of you in the sector have been trying to achieve for many, many years.
“Well, I’m proud to stand here today and say that you have a Secretary of State who’s totally committed to the cause. I’m delighted to say you have a Prime Minister who is too.
“Because we both recognise that if we’re going to make this a country that works for everyone, we need housing that works for everyone.
“And that’s true regardless of whether you’re an owner-occupier, a private rental tenant, or living in social housing.”
Cllr Baker, who represents Tankerton ward, said the speech signalled a move away from a focus on so-called ‘affordable housing’.
He said: “I welcome the comments from Sajid Javid and I hope this is the start of central Government allowing councils to take decisions that are based on local need. We all know there are issues with housing, much is written and spoken about the problems but writing and speaking only goes so far. Neither helps local people live in homes where they want to live, where they can actually afford to live.
“When people talk of affordable housing, this is often houses sold at 80% of market value. Given what the market value is in the local area, I share the thoughts of residents who do not believe this reflects what most people would consider being affordable.
“I genuinely sympathise with residents who assume councils have the ability to, within reason, do whatever they want to create new social housing. Before getting involved in local government myself, I had the same view – councils merely administer taxpayers’ money and if the taxpayers want more social housing, that should not be a complicated thing to deliver. Alas, the reality is quite different.”
Cllr Baker and colleagues at Canterbury City Council will be lobbying for changes in legislation that currently prevents councils from borrowing to build social housing – although they can do so to invest in commercial property. This point was recently made by Lib Dem leader Sir Vince Cable at the party’s conference.
Cllr Baker said: “It is time for everyone to come together, continue to lobby the government to give councils more control over the destiny of local housing matters, and find a solution to a problem which is only going to get worse.
“Housing is obviously a complex beast, especially in the Canterbury district where a huge number of houses that could be family homes or private rental properties are used for student accommodation and everything is linked. The higher student rents are, the higher private rents are, the higher property values are and the higher rents are – it’s a price-increasing cycle.
“But while there will always be a place for all sorts of properties, in all sorts of locations, I believe increasing access to social housing would be a huge difference and give many far more chance to live in appropriate houses that they can call home, in the community where they have ties and often grew up in. And the easiest way to increase access to social housing has to be to make it much easier for councils to create social housing.”
Canterbury City Council has already set up its own letting agency in a bid to make it easier for people who receive housing benefit to access privately rented accommodation. An initial trial is ongoing with several landlords signed up.