Wednesday, 3 October 2012

H&F Council house ban for £40k+

Radical housing moves afoot in Hammersmith & Fulham again as our Council seek to recapture the trailblazing years of departed leader Stephen Greenhalgh with an announcement yesterday that all those earning upwards of £40,200 a year will be denied access to any form of social housing in the borough from 2013.

In fact everyone, irrespective of their income, will be subject to short term leases instead of the home for life they thought they once had, according to this piece in the Telegraph yesterday. Five year tenancies instead will be the norm, with only 2 years for those aged 18-25, with the exception for the "most vulnerable", whatever that means.

Speaking to the Torygraph Andrew Johnson, the council’s cabinet member for housing said: 
“We are leading the way in ushering in a new era for social housing in this country.
We are saying that the current system, whereby anyone can apply for a council home irrespective of housing need, has failed.
We believe that the notion of a tenancy for life is outdated and that it’s wrong to expect to inherit a welfare benefit in the form of a subsidised house irrespective of housing need.
Instead, we want to give honest, hard-working, local residents on low to middle incomes, who make a positive contribution to their local communities, the opportunity to access social housing.
The old, antiquated system has created disadvantaged communities by producing concentrations of people on benefits with disproportionately high levels of unemployment and sometimes social breakdown.
All of which is eerily reminiscent of the dearly departed Leader's argument that social housing "warehoused poverty" and created "ghettoes", leading to plans that appeared to suggest the poor of the borough were set to be shipped up north, as with other boroughs in the Capital.

It also reveals this Council's determination not to lose the status as 'trailblazer', which is why Cllr Johnson proudly describes them as "leading the way". Ironically, as it turns out, since the label "Cameron's favourite council" was actually bestowed upon them several years ago by Opposition Labour Leader Stephen Cowan, and was meant as an insult - but it stuck, and turned into something the Council itself felt very proud about!

So on the one hand this smacks of a radical Tory Council trying to do something about the pleb question, usefully just in time for Tory party conference, but is it as simple as that? If the aim is actually to move people out of social housing and up on to the property ladder or onto better quality privately rented housing, is that really such a bad thing? I suspect this policy might end up getting buried in howls of criticism before people stop and think about the possible positives.

On the other hand that's going to be very cold comfort if you're told your tenancy isn't being renewed and you have to get out - especially if that means your kids have to change school at a crucial point, for example. And it builds in a perverse incentive - why would you take that better job which would take you over the £40,200 threshold of combined annual income if you knew it would mean you lost your home?

What seems to be lacking from this policy is any element of choice on the part of the tenants. That doesn't seem to be terribly important to their landlords at the moment, but it could hold the key to making policies like these actually empower people to move on and up instead of clobbering them with uncertainty and stress.

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