IslingtonTribune

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A quick fix? Corbyn needs a housing policy that won’t collapse

28 September, 2017

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn

JEREMY Corbyn, in his leader’s speech at the Labour Party conference yesterday (Wednesday), rightly described Grenfell as an entirely avoidable human disaster.

The charred remains of the block in Kensington have become a monument to the shattered remains of a failed economic and housing system, said the Labour leader.

The origins of this disaster can be traced back at least 30 years to when building regulations began to be toned down, massaged and weakened alongside a shrinkage of the state.

And this, in turn, was all part of the new politics that spawned today’s neoliberal economic policies.

Inevitably came the collapse of a properly co-ordinated social housing policy.

Commentators have said that the swing of votes away from the Conservative Party at the last general election had much to do with the anger of hard-up private renters.

A quick fix was suggested in Corbyn’s speech.

“Rent controls exist in many cities across the world and I want our cities to have those powers too and tenants to have those protections,” he said.

As ever in these conference speeches, little detail was given on how rent controls might work.

They have played their part in stabilising rents in the past though critics warn the supply of housing can shrink as pressurised landlords cut down on their investments.

Under some co-operative housing projects in Camden rent control caps increase by, for example, 2 per cent annually.

Also in this system, landlords are allowed to set rents levels but the amount they can increase them by is controlled throughout the length of the tenancy.

The other, perhaps more drastic way, is to set a maximum charge based on the number of bedrooms, or floorspace per square metre.

What is clear is that people are now, perhaps more than ever since the 1980s, desperate for big solutions.

The real solution to the rent crisis is a drastic increase in the supply of more housing.

What is needed is a revolutionary new housing policy equal to the weight of the Beveridge Report in the 1940s, that became the cornerstone of the welfare state. The question, of course, is will a Corbyn government have the financial wherewithal to invest in housing on the scale it should while trying to repair the rest of the broken economy?

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