The need for Council Housing

This speech was delivered at a local Trades Council housing event.

Good afternoon, firstly can I thank the Trades Council for inviting me to speak today.

My name is Margaret Mullane. I am a Councillor for LBBD for Village Ward (without doubt the best ward in Dagenham-joke). I have been a Councillor since 2010, and I have worked for Jon Cruddas MP as his office Manager for eight years. Today I want to talk to you about Housing, and in particular Council Housing – not the much promoted term affordable housing but simply the importance of Council housing.

£81, 805, 132.42. Let me say it again £81, 805, 132. 42.  What figure is this? Is this from the education budget, the overall welfare budget? No – This is the amount of Housing Benefit paid by the Borough until the 21/10/2015.

Who receives this money? Well mainly Private Landlords. Why are we paying this vast sum to these owners of multiple properties? Quite simply as things remain – we have no choice. There aren’t enough homes being built, and there aren’t enough council homes being built.

To rent a property in the Borough for a two bedroomed property costs £1100.00, and a three bedroomed property £1400.00 a month. Which of us would have this amount of money? Barking and Dagenham residents earn on average £518 a week. Additionally you will have to find in the region of £3000.00 for a deposit, and in many cases you may never see that deposit again.

A lady rang me recently, they are paying £1200.00 a month for a property, and the roof is broken, rain pours through, and the Landlord refuses to come and fix it.  The Borough has a Landlord licensing scheme, but this Landlord refused to join. We will pursue him but this is just one case amongst many.

The conversation in recent years on housing has changed and there is talk of “affordable housing”. An example of this alleged affordability is an 80% rent at the Borough Reside Company. A rent for a two bedroomed property in Gascoigne will be £960.00 per calendar month. 960 pounds before you’ve paid your Council tax, fares to work, or eaten yet is nearly a thousand pounds really what we can call affordable? Clearly not, when 1 in every 45 homes in the borough is subject to a possession order.

A man rang me who has been sleeping in his car. He had nowhere to go, and wasn’t deemed a priority by the Borough. He tried for one of these properties but said working even with working seven days, with overtime which isn’t guaranteed  he  still can’t afford it, and was afraid he would fall into debt, gain a poor credit rating and be evicted.  A cycle of homelessness due to the lack of truly affordable housing.

We as ward Councilors recognized these problems and have always advocated council housing, and built properties for working people at 65% rent. Whilst we are proud of this, so much more needs to be done. We could have filled the properties one hundred times over.

The answer is obvious. Instead of the council being forced to line the pockets of private landlords, let’s make the Council the Landlord with rents that are truly affordable. Schemes such as part buy part rent, where you are trying to pay a percentage of a property and pay rent are not guaranteed success. When we undertook the regeneration of the Leys, we found some of our residents had undertook this scheme and found they just couldn’t buy 100%.

A very sad and prevalent development in the Borough is Houses of Multiple Occupancy. For the initiated, this is where a Landlord splits rooms in a house, or even throws down eighteen mattresses and lets the property on that basis. Licensing alone does not rid us of the problems

In my ward one of the houses, in a very affluent area had eighteen people living there, and the outhouse had people in it too. The Borough did undertake action, but local people tell us of people coming back in on those numbers. It may only be a matter of time until a terrible accident is going to happen as often there is a bed squeezed in by a cooker. Sadly these things happen in our Borough. You have to ask of the children in these homes, what effect on their health and education does this have? Unlike what the Government would have us believe these are very often not workless households but hard working people. The Borough wages are some of the lowest in London, and we have one of the smallest bases of people who pay full Council tax which is in itself telling.

For a Councilor and indeed someone who lived in a Council house in Dagenham to advocate Council housing can have you depicted as a dinosaur by some, and someone who looks backwards to a different age . The age of Becontree Estate.

The current national Labour leadership is advocating Council Housing but that has sadly been a long time coming, John Healey was spectacular as a housing minister previously and supported the former Council leader Liam Smith when he built the first Council houses for some considerable time. At no point in Dagenham has any-one ever said to me I think Council housing is a terrible idea. The public gets it, and the public want it. There just seems to be reluctance from some people in some quarters, to carry the policy out.

Big announcements of home building are welcome but unless you include real council properties people won’t be able to afford to live in the Borough. Then you have what has occurred in other Boroughs. Regeneration takes place, the homes built are no-where near affordable, the local people move out, and property developers, buy to rent, or rich speculators move in and the communities are gone. They will never be able to afford to back, and in certain areas, it has served as a form of social cleansing.

Who needs Council housing, we all do. If you pay tax, remember that Housing benefit payment figure – would you rather line the pockets of a wealthy landlord or see affordable homes built for your families.

Another policy the Borough successfully undertook was to ask their elderly population renting , where the children had left home, and they were still residing in 3/4/5 bedroom properties would they consider a bungalow, and free up the properties for families. Again the bungalows could have been let a thousand times over. The Bungalows are council bungalows, they are very nice, and the tenants are very happy.

To defend Council Housing needs a strong voice and action. I met with a developer this May in Rainham and asked why there was no Council housing in the plans they were developing. After he stared at me as an alien, he then said it was the Councils decision, and “people round here don’t want that do they?”  Another developer said because of Crossrail, and the need for housing buy in Dagenham and Rainham and you will get a spectacular return. There is nothing new in Developers coming in for a quick buck and leaving, it’s an age old tale, but the signs are we are returning working class people to the Victorian age. Reaching adulthood in your parents’ home, no chance of affording a house, and Landlords dictating the housing policy of the area.

My Grandmother left the East End and had her pick of houses in Marsh Green Road Dagenham, to escape the conditions that I have spoken of today, her joy at a garden and an indoor toilet should be a story from the past not one that we should permit in the future. Let’s find a better way to spend £81, 805, 132. 42

Councillor Margaret Mullane, Dagenham & Rainham CLP Secretary