The Tory belief that private home ownership can solve the housing crisis is deeply flawed, writes Mike Lambert, while Bernie Evans calls for more help for private sector tenants. Plus views from both sides of the buy-to-let debate.
Polly Toynbee (The verdict is in: George Osborne’s help-to-buy scheme has been an utter disaster, 25 January) further exposes the lie behind the government’s policies, that by encouraging private home ownership we will solve the housing crisis. Her article confirms that the origins of the crisis are in the right-to-buy policies of the 80s, compounded by the refusal to allow the proceeds to fund new council stock and dismantling the Fair Rent Act. The housing crisis results from failing to meet the housing “needs” of those unable to afford a mortgage. Help to buy simply boosted the market demand for private housing.
But if that achieved little in helping those in real housing need, how much more morally reprehensible is it that we now subsidise private landlords and their buy-to-let mortgages to the tune of £22bn a year in the form of housing benefit? It is at this level because those without access to affordable social housing cannot pay private rents set to cover the cost of a mortgage and provide the owner with a return. This is revenue expenditure that could be better used to support much-needed public services. The government will only address the housing crisis by investing significant capital over a long period of time in new social housing and seeing it as an infrastructure investment that will produce both a capital asset and an income stream to the public sector, ultimately reducing the demand and therefore the cost of private rented housing. Surely this is what levelling up should be all about?
• Polly Toynbee’s idea for a hypothecated tax on unearned property wealth, with presumably the rate of capital gains tax being increased to match that of income tax, and to be spent directly on council housing, is excellent, but more needs to be done to help tenants in the private sector immediately. That would require local councils being given additional funding to enable more property inspections to take place, and power to remove letting licences from rogue landlords. Rent caps have to be established and applied in all areas, evictions paused for a year, and housing benefit thoroughly reviewed. How ludicrous to have a system whereby a landlord can increase a tenant’s rent in the knowledge that the benefit system will cover the extra.
• In an otherwise excellent article, Polly Toynbee fails to list buy-to-let mortgages as a further reason for rising prices and the difficulties faced by younger people wishing to buy their own home. While my middle-class friends buy several houses each as a way of subsidising their incomes or pensions through rent, so the share of houses available to young people is severely reduced and prices rise.
• There is another side to the picture Polly Toynbee paints. I own one house for rent, which I have always maintained to a very high standard. Last March, my tenant stopped paying any rent and says quite openly that he will stay there until I evict him, knowing full well that I must obtain a court order to do so. Covid regulations prevented me from filing court papers until early September, and five months later I am still awaiting a date for the hearing. Protection of tenants from bad landlords is fine, but let us also have some protection for landlords being cheated by unscrupulous tenants.
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