The speech below was given yesterday at Andy Burnham's Homelessness Summit, the first meeting of the Homelessness Action Network.
I was speaking as Lead for Housing, Homelessness and Planning at a CA level.
Firstly, I would like to welcome you all to Salford today for this discussion on homelessness and, more importantly how we can work together to tackle it.
Salford is a city with a deep-rooted social-democratic conscience.
It was the Manchester and Salford Trades Councils which first founded the Trade Union Congress, at the Mechanics institute in 1868. It was in the streets and pubs of Salford that a young Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels studied and wrote, and where Engels produced some of the most vivid chapters of his groundbreaking work: ‘The Condition of the Working Class in England’.
Supported by strong unions on the docks, the Trade Union movement was central to the life of many ordinary Salfordians right up until the deindustrialization of the 1980s. The local identity in this city is strong, and the communities are tight.
Those close-knit communities have been vital over the past century as a lifeline for the people of this city, who have had to rely on eachother for support.
Before the creation of the post-war welfare state, communities in places like Salford had no social safety net. Conditions in houses were cramped and overcrowded, employment was insecure and unregulated, and the cost for basic goods and service was often too much for an ordinary family to afford.
With the alarming rise of homelessness in austerity Britain it seems we are slipping back to those pre-war social conditions. We are seeing a huge increase in Houses of Multiple Occupancy (HMOs) – a return to the overcrowding and lack of space not seen since the 1920s-30s. Rents are soaring, inflation is on the rise and wages are stagnating. Living standards are being squeezed – in 21st century Britain we are seeing the recreation of the ‘working poor’.
We are also seeing a huge percentage increase in hospital admissions for malnutrition-related diseases like rickets. All this, while queues for local foodbanks continue to grow.
Also the Tories’ pernicious ‘Bedroom Tax’ has thrown thousands of families into financial insecurity, and pushed many individuals out of council-owned accommodation.A nd housing waiting lists continue to increase.
According to Shelter, changes to the Local Housing Allowance has left up to 82,000 families £100 worse off a week. Homelessness and rough-sleeping is the end product of this decline. It is the most visible and emotive expression of the blunt-edge of Tory austerity – the human cost of this ideological agenda.
During his election campaign, current GM Mayor Andy Burnham rightly put homelessness at the top of his agenda.
By setting up the Homelessness Action Network and Mayoral Homelessness Fund to tackle the issue, we are seeing the first strategically targeted approach to tackling homelessness across GM. It’s heartening to hear some of the other speakers here today, discussing the plans for that network. But ultimately, what we are talking about is mitigation.
However, underlying our present homelessness crisis is a chronic under-supply of affordable housing. That is the product of decades of failed national policy on housing, development and planning. Every part of our laws on planning have been altered over the past few decades, to put the developer in the driving seat.
- The Tories’ recent rule-changes on Section 106 payments now allows developers to negotiate payment if their site doesn’t fall between a 15-20% profit margin... commonly referred to as the ‘viability’ threshold. This means that faced with a clever accountant, local authorities struggle to prove that a developer is entitled to pay their fair share of infrastructural costs
- Through the Tories’ National Planning Policy Framework, it is also required that local authorities provide a 5 year forward supply of housing. This puts tremendous pressure on local authorities to grant permission to the first developer who comes along, regardless of their offer. If the 5 year target isn’t met, the entire local plan can be thrown into legal jeopardy.
The Tories’ definition of ‘affordability is incredibly vague, pegged at 80% of the market rates. When average house prices are 7.6 times the average salary, and average house prices 259% higher than in 1997, this definition simply doesn’t mean affordable to most British people.
- And we are currently awaiting the Tories’ latest guidance on the formula for calculating our housing need. The theory is, that you reduce obstacles for developers and in turn, they build the homes you need.
But that simply isn't happening
The pipeline of housing developments in Greater Manchester, and elsewhere in the country, is stacked full with luxury flats and accommodation for wealthy young professionals.
From the empty Saudi skyscrapers in London, to the 600,000 empty homes in England - house-building is becoming more about speculation and capital investment than it is about making places for people to live.
When demand for starter-homes, family accommodation and low-cost rented accommodation is so high, how are our developments geared so far away from this?
I think it is important to note that this is not the first time Britain has faced a housing crisis.
By the end of the Second World War, Britain was an incredibly densely populated country, with many millions of residents living in Victorian-era slums. The task faced
by the post-war Labour government was huge – to build homes for the millions who had had their lives devastated by war and they were tasked with this at a time when Britain had the biggest debt-to-GDP ratio in history, over 200% of GDP. Today it stands at 89% of GDP. Clement Attlee’s Labour government built over a million homes in this period, over 80% of them council-houses.
Homelessness was rendered statistically insignificant within a few years of the war ending. In 1949, only 6 rough sleepers were recorded in London’s annual ‘count’.
By contrast, by the end of 2016 Theresa May’s government built only 189,650 homes, well short of targets. As of March this year, they had missed their target again by a colossal 50,000 homes.
Rough sleeping and homelessness continue to rise, and house-prices and rents with them, and yet, government continues to push the mass sell-off of council and social housing. They have continued to maintain the cap on the Housing Revenue Account... traditionally the source of finance for council-house building.
This means that local authorities can’t borrow-to-build, and can’t gain access to enough money from the HRA to make building schemes viable. They have also continued the policy of Right to Buy, and they are even discussing its extension to tenants of SocialHousing.
Right to Buy means that council’s and Housing Associations are penalized for providing social rents, as they are forced to sell off their assets at massively discounted rates. In the last three years, 1,118 council-owned homes have been sold through Right to Buy in Greater Manchester alone.
During the same period, only 310 homes for social rent have been built.
Only yesterday the LGA reported that local councils are providing temporary housing for 120,540 children with their families – a net increase of 32,650 (37%) since the second quarter of 2014. The net cost of providing temporary accommodation has tripled in the last 3 years.]
So what can we do?
Clearly, the problem is too acute to just campaign for a new government. We already have people dying in our streets in Manchester – and something needs to be done. What is missing from the equation here is the presence of local authorities, intervening in the market to get the right results.
With a legal framework so heavily biased towards developers, and so few developers actively building housing according to social need, what local authorities need is a development vehicle to engage in the process of bidding for sites.
I’m happy to say that Greater Manchester are currently investigating the possibility of a series of Joint Ventures with housing providers, which would commit those providers to build exclusively affordable accommodation.
Further to this, their profits would have to be reinvested in further development. But I think we can do more. Here in Salford, we are currently modelling a housing delivery vehicle owned by the council outright, allowing us to subsidize council house rents through private sector rents. And in Greater Manchester, we are going back to the drawing board with our spatial strategy.
The new strategy will prioritize density within urban centres, brownfield first, town-centre renewal, enhancing green infrastructure access to integrated transport. This is about seeing the kinds of homes we want to see, not the kind that will make the most money.
But we can't let all of the responsibility for building and development fall at the feet of local authorities.
We also need to develop partnerships with private sector developers, who understand their social obligations. Developers who see things as more complicated than the bottom line, take a pride in Greater Manchester, place-making and truly feel their obligation to serve its people. Together, we can begin to target the needs faced by our community for housing and development, and provide the resources needed to cater for them.
These kinds of partnerships are long processes, but they have to start somewhere. As the GM Lead for Housing, Homelessness and Planning, I aim to be at the forefront of discussions to build them.
With your help, we can begin to build a Greater Manchester for everyone.Thank You.