Speech to the Harrow Churches Housing Association's AGM on the 14th March 2016.
The house I grew up in
I have lived in Harrow all my life.
I grew up in North Harrow – have lived in Pinner, South Harrow, Rayners Lane and now central Harrow.
The house in North Harrow where my parents moved to when they got married in 1966 cost £5,300.
Many years - and owners – later, the value of the home I grew up in has increased in value almost 100 times. When they moved in my Dad was a teacher and my Mum was a housewife. They were an average family; income wise. Nowadays, a family with children on an average salary cannot afford to buy in North Harrow. Indeed, they can no longer afford to buy anywhere in Harrow at the moment.
Prices in Harrow went up by 11% last year. An average Harrow property now costs £409,000 and house prices are expected to double over the next 10 years.
For those on middle incomes and obviously for those on lower incomes, Harrow is almost impossible to afford to buy.
It’s one reason why the work of Harrow Churches Housing Association is so important.
Inevitably, as house prices have increased, so have rents. Rents in London are now on average just under £1700 a month. In Harrow, they are cheaper, just – but still over £1300.
Housing = No 1 issue
In the last five years, housing has become the number one issue in my surgery that constituents want to see me about. The high cost of renting, the shortage of Council properties, and the quality of accommodation available.
Head teachers in Harrow have raised with me the turnover of pupils because their housing situation changes. Eviction or a forced move now inevitably means a school move for the children. Indeed, increasingly it means a move not only out of school, but out of Harrow and often out of London. Parents and grandparents wonder aloud to me how their children will be able to live near them.
The importance of HCHA
The challenges Harrow faces in terms of affordable housing are not unique. London is in the grip of a major housing crisis, but the work that Harrow Churches does is one of the few big plus points on housing in Harrow at the moment.
And I’m a big fan.
90% tenant satisfaction last year is a very powerful confirmation of the quality of HCHA’s work.
Add in the fact that HCHA rents are almost 60% less than it costs to rent in the private sector and you’ll understand why I’m keen to reserve a place.
As someone who is unashamedly proud of Harrow, I was delighted by the £3.5m invested in new homes in our borough.
And the work you do with young people, 18-24 year olds, helping them with a range of basic help and life skills is clearly hugely important to those young people.
The great work of this Association cannot disguise the bigger debate on housing which our country needs to have.
Home ownership in our country is falling for the first time in a century. The number of families with children renting privately has doubled in the last decade.
Shelter argue England needs 250,000 new homes to be built each year. The Mayor of London argues 50,000 new homes are needed each year.
We are, at best, building half of what we should be.
I think there are solutions but I fear the crisis is set to get worse before it gets better.
The forced sale of Council homes is set to exacerbate both the shortage of housing in Harrow, and the Council’s financial difficulties. We have one of the lowest Council housing stocks in the country, yet Harrow Council will still be forced to sell its most valuable homes.
If the Housing Bill that is currently before Parliament goes through, Harrow will be sent an invoice by the government for its share of the cost of giving more housing association tenants the right to buy.
The bill will be based on the value of homes in our area and with Harrow losing £83m from its budget in the next 4 years, and as it already gets a lower level of funding than every neighbouring borough, in practice the Council will have little choice but to sell Council homes as they become vacant to pay the Chancellor.
Solutions to Housing Crisis
What’s really holding back house building is the cost of land.
Own a home and you’re doing well.
Own land, and be able to wait for its value to rise and you’re sitting on a goldmine.
All the while the vacant land around for example Kodak is not being built on, it’s going up in value.
The only way we will get more homes built in the long term is to get more land at lower and more stable prices into the hands of people who want to build. Stronger planning and compulsory purchase powers are overdue.
On Wednesday the Chancellor gets up in the House of Commons to make his Budget speech. Down the year’s Budget speeches have resulted in a huge amount of discussion between MPs and their constituents.
I hope this Budget will see more public and private money being made available to ensure more decent affordable homes are built. Shelter argue that a new Housing Investment Bank is needed to accelerate private investment in housing.
They also champion a crackdown on tax evasion by landlords, a raising of the local authority borrowing cap, and other measures to generate an extra billion pounds plus, for new genuinely affordable housing.
Lastly, I think a more radical devolution of power is needed. Scotland controls its housing market itself. It can and is going to end the right to buy. It also has the right to control rents and levy property taxes how it wants to. London should have the same powers. Part of the problem in London over over the last 8 years has been that the Mayor did not fully control the rules of the housing market, nor the property taxes that are levied or not levied on land and property crucial for housing.
We are not a nation like Wales and Scotland here in London. But the solution to our housing crisis demands that our Mayor and Assembly have powers equal to those that the Scottish Government have if we are to tackle our problems here in the capital of England.
I come tonight to celebrate another strong year for Harrow Churches Housing Association.
But also to remind myself of the work that still needs doing in Parliament and across the borough to champion more affordable housing.