At the recent Westminster Fairer Housing Conference, organised by Karen Buck and Westminster Labour group, the deep worries about the behaviour of housing associations in Westminster was the main concern for many attendees, as reported by this article in the Guardian. Many housing associations have been increasingly focused on housebuilding, often for private sale and for homes that stretch reasonable definitions of affordability beyond breaking point, egged on by a Conservative government that slashed investment in new homes after the election in 2010.
Now, as part of a dodgy accounting trick to remove housing association debt from the government balance sheet, the 2016 Housing Act has removed a whole range of protections that had been in place to try and ensure housing associations serve the best interests of their residents. Even under the old rules housing associations had been selling off hundreds of social homes in Westminster and not replacing them here, but deregulation will make the problem even worse by removing the need for the regulator to approve sales, even to private companies and with tenants still living in those homes. The housing associations will now be free to spend the money from sales of properties funded by government grant on whatever they want. They will also no longer need approval to change their constitutions and boards, making it easier for them to become even more commercial in the way they behave.
Despite multiple Tory U-turns on making it compulsory, there is still pressure on housing associations to ‘voluntarily’ apply a ‘pay to stay scheme’ for families with total household incomes before tax of over £40,000. Karen Buck and Cllr Adam Hug have recently called on the Valuation Office Agency to reject proposals by Genesis Housing to hike rents for secure tenants by between 20-50% and there are fears that deregulation will lead to further rent hikes.
Nationally Labour are opposed to the Tories’ pernicious 2016 Housing Act, which also threatens huge damage to Westminster’s Council homes. Locally Labour are calling for Westminster Council to set up a preferred provider system so that housing associations that treat residents poorly or sell off social homes without replacing them are not eligible for Section 106 contracts as part of private housing schemes and are not able to partner with the council on joint projects.
Housing association residents are mobilising to hold their associations to account, so that they comply with their original missions to provide decent homes for those on lower incomes. Labour stands with them both nationally and here in Westminster.