How can Councils best improve issues around Social Housing?

This week, the Surrey Mirror asked local politicians to comment on the question: How can Councils best improve issues around Social Housing? Jonathan Essex, Green Councillor for Earlswood & Whitebushes, responded:

Housing policy and funding are in a right mess. House prices in Surrey are unaffordable for most people, and there is a desperate shortage of socially rented homes.

Councils can’t change this on their own. The problem is caused by central Government and we need to rewrite national housing policy.

This mess is a direct result of government changes made since 2010. The Coalition Government cut the budget for affordable homes by £5 billion – meaning councils and social housing providers were no longer able to build new homes. Homes sold under the ‘Right to Buy’ scheme are not being replaced, meaning ever decreasing numbers of homes for social rent.

At the same time, the Government changed the definition of ‘affordable’ – from no more than 50% of typical private rent to 80%. So since 2011, new ‘affordable’ homes have been barely cheaper than lower-end private rented homes anyway.

At the same time, the Government’s new Planning Framework (which was drafted by three developers) encouraged developers to gamble on land and make huge profits. The result has been increasing pressure on Green Belt and other countryside for developers to build expensive homes for private sale. The huge housing bubble has made housing less affordable for everyone and is driving working-class households out of Surrey.

While Government bears the main responsibility, there are some things Councils can do. The ‘new homes bonus’ which the Government gives them for new homes built by developers in their area should be invested in genuinely affordable homes. Councils could take a lead by re-purposing empty buildings and spaces above shops, and compulsorily purchasing derelict urban sites. They should ensure all public sector land only has 100% genuinely affordable housing on it, and collaborate with social housing providers to make this happen.


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