Observer column 5 August 2022
A home should be for life
We all need that sense of security that comes from having a home that feels like our own. There has been a long tradition in this country of ensuring that those who can't afford (or don't want) to buy a home can have a secure rented one. Successive governments from the 1930s built thousands of good quality houses and later flats, so families were able to live locally, close to relatives, with their repairs sorted for them, and no threat of eviction if things got difficult.
For those too young to remember, it's called Council Housing!
It was the 1979 Conservative government that started to undermine this system, encouraging tenants to buy their homes, not building enough to replace these and leaning on local authorities to move their housing stock into the grateful arms of housing associations. Then these associations got greedy, forgot they were created to be a service to residents, and started merging. As they got larger they lost any real connection to their roots, and over the last twenty years, social housing has been a mess.
I get more complaints about the housing providers than anything else, and when councillors try and intervene, we often get short shrift from their managers.
Thatcher succeeded in effectively privatising housing. In Hastings, council housing was abandoned 25 years ago, and now for many residents it's a battleground not dissimilar to the struggles tenants have in the private sector.
So this week, I was thrilled that Hastings Borough Council decided enough is enough, and agreed to restart Council Housing again. It won't be a quick fix, as government rules don't make it easy to do, but we are starting by allocating the six new flats at York Buildings (above Millets in the town centre) to people on our housing waiting list. They will get really nice flats, at local housing allowance rents, and security of tenure.
Next, we will start to build new housing on sites on Bexhill Road and in Hollington (next to the Robsack Community Centre). Then we will look for more small sites that we can develop quickly, sites that our housing associations are not interested in. They prefer larger sites now, and another very positive announcement this week was the agreement between ilke (who have bought the Harrow Lane site from us) and Orbit to build 140 sustainable homes, all gas free, as we move to renewable energy and better insulation which will be good for the environment but also dramatically reduce residents bills.
70 of these will be allocated to people on the housing waiting list, and soon there will be more as our 500 Homes programme really gets going.
Still much more to do, but at last, Hastings isn't just saying housing is in crisis, but actually doing something about it.
Council Leader's column