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Housing associations selling off homes is social cleansing and a false economy

Glyn Robbins welcomes Jeremy Corbyn's intervention on Housing Association sell offs

05 July, 2019 — By Emily Finch

Glyn Robbins holding his book: There’s No Place

In February, the Tribune wrote about the hidden scandal of housing associations selling off homes intended for social renting.

Campaigners from across London, including Islington, had protested outside one of the auctions. But despite more protests and growing criticism, the sell-offs have continued.

Now Jeremy Corbyn has added his voice to those calling on housing associations to think again. In a statement, Mr Corbyn says: “I am completely opposed to housing associations selling off properties that are needed to house families in our borough when thousands of families need a home. We desperately need more social housing in our borough and selling off properties will not solve the housing crisis. Labour will address the housing crisis by building council homes for social rent, delivering one million genuinely affordable homes.”

This is a very welcome intervention. For too long, housing associations have operated under a tarnished halo. They may have honourable intentions and charitable origins, but in practice, they increasingly behave like private property developers. The sell-offs are graphic evidence of this.

The Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) has said that 165,000 homes intended for social rent were lost between 2012 and 2018 and warn that could reach nearly 200,000 by 2020 “if we don’t take action soon”.

One of the next homes planned to go under the hammer is at 53 Tollington Road, where Islington Homes for All staged a demonstration earlier this month. The owner, Clarion housing association, claims they are compelled to sell homes in the borough so they can make investments elsewhere.

But Islington’s lead member for housing, Councillor Diarmaid Ward, has said: “They say things like ‘All our profits fund genuinely affordable homes’, but there is no indication of where. If housing associations are using Islington as a cash cow to build homes in other parts of the country, that’s a problem.”

Cllr Ward is quite right – and it isn’t only Clarion who are doing this. So are some local councils, Transport for London, the NHS and the Mayor of London. They’re asset stripping to plug holes in their budgets caused by cuts. But it’s a false economy. For every social rented home lost, another family is left languishing inexpensive, private, temporary accommodation, often outside of their local community, with all the associated costs, including the incalculable damage to children’s education.

This isn’t “sensible asset management” as housing associations bosses like to claim. It’s robbing Peter to pay Paul. It’s also a form of social cleansing. In effect, the sell-offs deny local people in housing need the right to stay in their communities. In truth, there are those who don’t think working-class people belong in “high value” places like Islington. We’re already seeing many priced out by the over-heated housing market and scarcity of genuinely affordable homes. These sell-offs only make matters worse – and let’s remember, housing associations made a profit of £3.5billion last year and still receive significant amounts of public money.

Last year, Clarion made £157m, but like other housing associations, they’re building fewer homes for social rent than for the market.

In May, following a vigorous local campaign, another housing association (Peabody) agreed not to sell a family home in Bethnal Green, saying they were “happy to offer the property to house a homeless family from the Tower Hamlets waiting list”. That’s what they’re in business to do! Clarion should follow Peabody’s example at 53 Tollington Road.

We have a huge housing crisis, but private developers are calling the shots.

Islington is proof that looking to them to provide the homes we need isn’t working. Whoever’s in government, we need to take back control, starting with direct investment in council housing.


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