Figures released this week showing that a government promise from 2015 to create 200,000 new ‘starter homes’ in England for first-time buyers has not been met.
According to the National Audit Office (NAO), since the scheme was launched by David Cameron in 2015 not a single one has been built.
According to Peter Chowney, the man who carries Labour’s hopes of winning back the Hastings and Rye constituency in the forthcoming General Election, it is a “stark example of the Tories’ dismal house-building record” and that directly impacts the people in Hastings and Rye he says.
Currently there are 1,666 people on the Hastings’ housing waiting list. Many live in overcrowded and unsuitable housing. Many others, looking for social housing are turned down and there are currently 78 families living in temporary accommodation.
But even those lucky enough to get on the list have to live on hope and the narrow chance of a suitable property coming up… there are simply not enough homes to go round says Mr Chowney.
He told Hastings In Focus: “The government admits that the housing market is broken but doesn’t know how to fix it.
“What is needed is not piecemeal schemes such as the ‘starter homes’, but much more affordable social housing.”
The 200,000 ‘starter homes’ promised in 2015 were to be aimed at those under the age of 40 and sold at a 20 per cent discount compared to market value. But even a home like that would not have been much use to someone like Kayleigh, who is on Universal Credit. She’s bringing up her three children in a tiny two-bedrommed flat in St Leonards, where the oldest ones, the ten-year-old and two-year-old, have bunk beds in a room the size of a boxroom.
The bathroom and kitchen are so ‘on top’ of the other rooms that mould is forming on bedroom walls. Windows can’t be opened for long because of the smell of drains from an upstairs flat.
As a result, Kayleigh’s health and that of her children are suffering. Her ten-year-old daughter is showing symptoms of autism and anxiety and regularly asks her mother: “When are we going to move?”
Labour, according to Mr Chowney, is committed to bringing back socially-funded homes like the council house that Kayleigh grew up in in Hastings: “a proper family home” she says.
Mr Chowney, who is also the leader of Hastings Borough Council (HBC), says: “Hastings Council is now investigating the possibility of starting to build council houses again, for the first time in over 20 years.
“This would be much easier under a Labour government, with a commitment to fund local councils to build a million new council homes. We need a dramatic increase in housing investment if we’re to provide the homes that people need, but can’t afford.”
He explains that under the current system, very few local authorities are able to build council homes, because there is a cap on the money they can spend to do so. The best they can do is administer the availability of socially-funded homes, and make sure developers meet their obligation to provide affordable housing. But many developers find ways to water down this commitment.
He says that for now, HBC does what it can, recently with the Optivo housing association providing 26 affordable rented properties at Winchester House, St Leonards.
A more ambitious scheme is the current plan to build 192 homes off the Bexhill Road. The council, which owns the land, says 76 of these equal to 40per cent will be made available for affordable housing, through shared ownership or rent.
Building more homes is not the only answer. Labour says that tenants need protection from rogue landlords who use Section 21 notices to evict renters at sometimes no more than a month’s notice, without having to give a reason.
The party says decent landlords should be supported but rogue landlords should face tighter regulation and it wants to introduce private rent controls. The party would force developers who fail to develop land they already own to sell it to councils at a fraction of its market value.
Peter Chowney said: “Placing constraints on property developers and private landlords will make the rented sector more desirable – renting won’t be something you’re forced into if you can’t afford to buy.
“Buy-to-let would be less attractive, making homes places to live in, rather than an investment opportunity.
“And this will mean the upward pressure on house prices will reduce, making home ownership more attractive to first-time buyers.”
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