'Hackney: A Place to Call Home' housing debate
TENANTS’ rights in the private rented sector, rent controls, overseas investors and the Housing Bill were some of the topics debated at a public meeting on housing in Hackney.
About 60 people attended the panel discussion on Wednesday March 9 at Stoke Newington Town Hall.
Alongside the Chair Jess McCabe, Features Editor of Inside Housing magazine, audience members heard from Cllr Philip Glanville, Hackney Council Cabinet Member for Housing; Pat Turnbull, Chair of the New Kingshold Estate Tenants and Residents Association, and delegate of London Tenants Federation; Heather Kennedy, of local private renters’ campaign group Digs; Tom Copley AM, Chair of the London Assembly Housing Committee; and Christine Whitehead, Emeritus Professor of Housing Economics at the London School of Economics.
After Cllr Glanville gave a brief presentation about the challenges facing housing in Hackney and beyond (see slides below), discussion quickly turned to the rights of tenants in the private rented sector. It followed a question from a resident about their private sector landlord failing to treat mould. As well as poor maintenance and conditions, also raised were issues around lack of affordability, regularly increasing rents, insecurity of tenure, retaliatory evictions and letting agency.
Ms Kennedy stressed the need for more legislation to support private sector tenants. “Security of tenure and affordability have to go hand in hand,” she said. “We have to work together to campaign. There can be safety in numbers, and as a group we can negotiate with landlords. When you’re on your own, it can be very difficult. Most of the people we see at Digs, it’s because the landlords have put the rent up.”
Mr Copley, who agreed there should be greater regulation and suggested three-year minimum tenancies, added: “We need to change the balance in private sector housing so more power is in the hands of tenants."
Cllr Glanville used the opportunity to promote the Council’s 10 Steps to Better Private Renting campaign and its recommendations to Government to help councils clamp down on bad landlords. He said: “We're working to make private sector inspections more proactive so we target hotspots of poor private sector housing.”
Audience member Mick Gosling, Treasurer of Hackney Trades Union Council, called for a return to rent control. “We need rent controls back, when an officer from the Council would come round and say your landlord’s charging you too much rent, and your landlord would reduce it,” he said, dividing the panel.
Mr Copley and Prof Whitehead felt such a blanket approach was outdated. Mr Copley said: “There’s not one single model. In France they have three-year tenancies, in Germany they’re indefinite. They can be linked to inflation or to local markets. Shelter does not support the hard rent controls of the 1970s – landlords would be selling up, and we would have mass homelessness overnight.”
Mrs Turnbull disagreed: “The problem is not that rent controls don’t work, it’s that the Government don’t want to introduce rent controls. In the days when we had rent controls, we also had a large amount of council housing.” Ms Kennedy added: “Security of tenure and affordability have to go hand in hand. Would landlords really flee the sector if we introduced some model of rent control? Actually, you get more bang for your buck than from any other form of investment, especially in London. We need to be bold and brave to tackle the issue. We have to talk about rent controls.”
One audience member questioned whether bringing empty homes into use would address London’s housing shortage. Mr Copley said: “Bringing empty homes back into use is only a drop in the ocean,” stating that across London there were 22,000 empty homes, compared to more than 300,000 in the capital on housing waiting lists.
Calls came from members of the audience to curb overseas investors buying unbuilt properties off-plan. Prof Whitehead warned against demonising such buyers. “One of the main issues of housebuilding is getting finance. During the financial crisis developers could not get finance to build unless they pre-sold off-plan. The building from 2009/10 was on the back of international investment,” she said.
The event closed with a passionate discussion on the Housing and Planning Bill. All panellists agreed it could have a very negative impact on the attempts of councils to address housing need and affordability.
Proposals to enable housing association tenants to buy their home, with a discount of over £100,000 to be funded by the forced sales of high value council housing, could see the Council having to sell up to 700 homes over the next five years. There were also concerns expressed over the proposal that council tenant households in London with a combined income of £40,000 or more should pay market rates, which could see rents increasing from £434 to up to £1,700 per month in some areas of the borough.
Cllr Glanville said: “Introducing the worst aspects of the private rented sector into social housing is a disgrace. The Council has to act within the law, but there’s still a lot to play for with the Housing Bill. We hope to see no [council] homes being sold off. We will be doing everything we can not to.”
Mrs Turnbull added: “The most important thing at the moment is that every individual person and every tenants’ association should write to the Housing Minister, their own MP, every MP, members of the House of Lords, expressing their opposition to the Bill – it’s not too late. There are a lot of people who do not realise what this Bill is, who do not know how harmful it is. There’s a big programme of information to be had as well as of organisation.”
The event – called ‘Hackney: A Place to Call Home’ – was part of the Council’s year-long public consultation ‘Hackney: A Place for Everyone’.
The slides used in Cllr Glanville's presentation