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Slum housing conditions highlight disparity between public and private-rented sector

Two articles on the BBC website (‘Slum landlord hit squad proposed‘, ‘MSPs hear slum housing concerns‘) earlier this month drew attention to the issue of slum housing in the Govanhill district of Glasgow, an area that has one of the severest housing problems in the UK.

Over 75% of the area’s 1,200 slum flats are owned by non-regulated private landlords. Living conditions there were recently described by Scottish Housing Minister Alex Neil as ‘totally unacceptable for the 19th, never mind the 21st Century’. Concerns are also growing over the links between private slum landlords and organised crime, as recently expressed by Anne Lear, a director of the Govanhill Housing Association.

A recent visit to Govanhill by an ex-resident and IWCA member revealed to the extent of the area’s deterioration in recent years. Overcrowding, along with its associated social problems, has been exacerbated by immigration into the area, with no discernable attempt to provide matching resources to deal with this influx.

Brothels set up in what were once family areas testify to an all too common theme: the ongoing appropriation of public and private space by antisocial elements and the related loss of an arena for socialising and interaction within working class areas.

Absentee and slum landlords are responsible for creating and perpetuating many of the problems faced by residents in such areas. A comparison of standards of accommodation between those offered by the Govanhill Housing Association flats and those from the private sector reveal that GHA properties receive regular renovations and upkeep to maintain decent living standards – this is in stark contrast to privately rented accommodation within the same area.

One such private property, next door to an IWCA member, was put on the market for sale at £30,000. An inspection revealed that it was riddled with dry rot and boasted a roof so rotten that it was near to collapse. An estimate of the cost of materials alone required to make the property habitable was put at around £40,000.

Despite this the property was snapped up for £60,000 by a private landlord and let out immediately with no renovation work done at all, despite the obvious health hazard it posed to its occupants.
The IWCA has previously highlighted and campaigned against New Labour attempts to privatise council housing stock through transfer to housing associations.

This is not because the condition of the properties owned by local authorities or the services provided by them are necessarily any better than those for housing associations (although these have quite often deteriorated quite significantly after transfer of publicly-owned housing).

Rather, the IWCA opposes deliberate move away from democratic control and public accountability for social housing. Although the mainstream parties in control of local authorities usually do their best to circumvent democracy can accountability, it is these things that provide the best hope for improvement. Once housing is transferred into private hands there will never be an opportunity for those affected – the tenants – to get it back in public ownership.

The predominance of private rented properties (often owned by a small number of slum landlords) in former council housing areas represents the logical conclusion of the governments drive to take housing out of the public sector and put it in private hands.

Some facts about housing

  • Housing associations manage and own the regulated section of private-sector housing.
  • Most are more like Barrett Homes than ‘community’ friendly associations – at least according to the previous chief executive of the Housing Corporation, which was responsible for dishing out public funds to them and for regulating them.
  • For every £1 housing associations receive from public funds they are expected to find £2 from private finance.
  • Increasingly they have a heavy emphasis on building ‘intermediate’ housing – ‘low cost ownership’ or part-rent part-ownership homes which are deemed to be ‘affordable’ but are not, except to the middle class.
  • Across England this kind of housing is accessible to households with income of up to £60,000.
  • In London, the current Mayor has increased this to around £74,800.
  • About a year ago there were so many ‘intermediate’ homes sitting empty that the government dished out more public money to enable them to be rented rather than part-owned.
  • These ‘intermediate’ homes are more expensive to produce than ‘social’ rented homes: their purpose is to protect the middle classes from slipping down onto council housing lists.
  • Council tenants still have more rights than housing association tenants (including security of tenure) and generally have lower rents (despite efforts to bring council rents up to housing association levels).
  • There are more than 400 housing associations operating in London (of all types and sizes) but a large proportion of housing association homes here are owned by the fifteen largest associations – the so-called G15, that keep getting larger through mergers and bigger development plans.
  • In Islington, Labour MP Emily Thornberry set out a list of ‘worst’ housing associations in the borough (having carried out a survey of tenants) a few years ago. The worst two just happened to be those that had taken over council housing estates in stock transfer schemes (pushed by her party).
  • In London there are huge levels of homelessness and overcrowding with over 350,000 on London council waiting lists, 54,000 homeless households living in temporary accommodation and 200,000 homes are overcrowded. According to the last census, overcrowding levels were higher in council or housing association homes than in the private sector in London.
  • Council waiting lists in London keep on increasing in number: Islington has round 13,000 on its waiting list and Newham 25,000. Many people don’t even bother to put their names down on waiting lists because they know they won’t stand a chance of getting either a council or housing association home.
  • At the rate they are building new social rented homes in the London borough of Newham it would take over 200 years to clear the existing waiting list).
  • The private sector (aside from housing associations) is growing rapidly. There are now more households renting homes from the private sector in London than those renting from councils or housing associations put together.
  • Housing associations see building homes for ‘market rent’ as the future. The London Mayor talks enthusiastically about encouraging ‘institutional private landlords’.
  • Much of the luxury flat development in London has been ‘buy to let’.
  • Private renters have minimal rights and even where they do have rights, e.g. around challenging poor conditions, using them means taking the risk of being issued with a notice to quit. Most private tenants are on short term six-monthly agreements.
  • Lots of the right-to-buy homes on council estates are now occupied by private renters. Some even rented back at market rents to councils to house homeless families on a temporary basis.
  • In London a third of council homes have been sold under the right to buy. In some parts of the capital large families who wouldn’t otherwise be able to access council homes are being squeezed into overcrowded conditions in ex council homes.

2 Responses to “Slum housing conditions highlight disparity between public and private-rented sector”

  1. Damian Says:

    Can’t really add anything more about whats happening here in Govanhill RE housing. But since govanhill’s been mentioned i should probably highlight that it is also an area that i think could be in danger to far right thought memes in a few years time by trends that is also being fuelled partly by multicultural approaches to community work.

  2. James Says:

    There are two things that do not seem to be considered here.

    Firstly, many working class people desperately want to own their own home and tend to be happier. Is this false consciousness? Or are they now the “petty” bourgeois and so should be expelled from the working class as soon as they get a mortgage? Or is this a genuine working class aspiration that should be addressed by the one group on the left that has tried to engage the working class on their own terms? The stories of home owning middle class Labour councillors stopping their constituents from owning their own homes was a staple of Liberal and Tory propaganda. Home ownership became the Achilles’ heel of the left in the 1980s, could this happen again?

    There are many people who either recognise that home ownership is beyond their means, or who have no desire to own their own home. Fair enough, but is council ownership really the best option? Can the working class not self organise and take legal ownership of their estates? Council ownership essentially means that either middle class elements of one of the three main parties control the lives of the tenants, or if there is weak political control that middle class housing officials do this. Council ownership is at least more accountable than many alternatives, but residents ownership is more accountable – and achievable.

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