Yesterday's Evening Standard carried this thoughtful piece by Simon Jenkins. Here's my response:
The spotlight Simon Jenkins shined into the darker corners of London’s housing crisis is to be welcomed. But by asserting that Hammersmith and Fulham Council’s “priorities are the right ones” when allocating council homes it missed the critical aspect of their approach to social housing - rather than re-defining social housing for the modern age, the Conservative administration has set about ending it.
Consider that they have identified 3,500 council homes for demolition in their planning framework; or that they have controversially changed planning rules to halt the supply of social housing on new developments; or that the Council now auctions off council homes in its more desirable locations (58 sold last year) and you wonder exactly what affordable homes will be left to allocate?
Three hundred and sixty thousand Londoners are on social housing waiting lists with many currently living in squalid, overcrowded conditions. The government’s answer to this problem is to allow councils to discharge their duties by placing these households into private sector housing - sometimes at much greater public expense and hundreds of miles away from the essential support of their friends and families. This and much more of the government’s new approach was trail-blazed, prior to the last election, by Hammersmith and Fulham’s Council Leader in his influential pamphlet: Principles for Social Housing Reform.
And, far from seeking to help those most in need of a home our Borough’s leading Conservatives councillors closed down 12 homeless hostels, ended funding to homeless charities and even banned a Christmas homeless shelter - after describing the homeless as “a law and order issue”.
But let’s also consider current statistics on home ownership. Those tell how the average twenty-something will be in their 50s by the time they buy their first home. It is evident that fixing the supply problem is essential.
So Hammersmith and Fulham’s spin around its new policy for allocating homes begins to look like a very bad joke while they quietly reduce housing supplies. And as they continue to prioritize building luxury flats for international investors it’s hard to think anyone would believe they are in touch with Londoners’ actual housing priorities.
Cllr. Stephen Cowan, Labour Leader of the Opposition, the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham”