Gazette letters: Council defends itself, homelessness and the Housing Bill

Islington marches against the governments Housing Act Picture: Vickie Flores

Islington marches against the governments Housing Act Picture: Vickie Flores - Credit: Vickie Flores/Archant

I’d like to reply to a recent letter about Islington Council’s housing record (“James Murray’s legacy is luxury homes”, May 19), writes Cllr Richard Watts, leader of Islington Council.

We have an excellent record of delivering affordable homes. In the last five years, more than half the total homes approved on larger developments have been affordable. This is 1,800 affordable homes – 65 per cent of which are for genuinely affordable social rent – which is the council’s top priority.

On smaller sites – with less than 10 housing units – we can’t insist on affordable housing on-site because of city-wide rules. However, we do require a financial contribution from developers, in lieu of on-site provision – either £50k or £60k per new home built, depending on location within the borough.

We’re also committed to building new council homes ourselves, with Islington’s biggest council house-building programme for many years – with a target of 500 new homes for social rent to be built between 2014 and 2019.

Like the rest of London, Islington faces a housing crisis, with a huge shortage of affordable housing. The government’s recent Housing Act will not make this any easier. But we are committed to doing everything we can to provide the homes our residents badly need.

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My name is Tia and I go to Highbury Fields School, writes Tia Simpson.

The issue of homelessness in Islington and in general is significant to me. Homeless people are never seen as a priority in our society and the numbers are increasing every single day. Some people are anxious about giving money to the less fortunate because they believe the money will be spent to buy alcohol or drugs, but stereotypes such as that aren’t the only things that can lead anyone to poverty.

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In my citizenship class we’re doing a project about this and I’ve discovered from a charity called Centrepoint that 80,000 young people are homeless in the UK every year – that’s one in 100. With rent increasing, the number of homeless people is dramatically increasing as they are unable to afford to pay the amount of money they owe the landlord and end up living in the streets or in dreadful conditions. With the help of our school, Ms Joseph, Ms Berry, Ms Tubridy, all the teachers that donated and all the students we have managed to raise an amazing amount of money for Centrepoint. The main reason I’d like to help would be because everyone in this world matters, no matter how much money they have in their pockets.

Making a small change in someone’s life can have a big impact. For example when you see a homeless person on the streets, don’t look the other way – smile at them. If you have the time and money, buy them something to eat. It doesn’t have to be a full meal but even a sandwich and a bottle of water would be significant. Even giving them a small amount of change will make their day better. They’re humans too and they deserve to be treated with respect. Put yourself into their shoes and ignore all the stereotypes of drugs and alcohol – anyone can help and every bit of change is worthy.

I’m an Islington pensioner with a secure council tenancy and I’m a lifelong member of the Trade Union Movement, writes Pete Gilman, Islington Council tenant.

Housing is something I specialise in.

I’ve been worried about the housing situation for a long time. I’ve been involved in the tenants’ movement for years – I fought to resist stock transfers by local councils.

In Hackney, many council estates were transferred over to housing associations. Councils were saying to tenants: “We can’t afford to make the repairs and do the maintenance that you need.” That was the start of changes to social housing.

Promises were made that people would have the repairs they needed and rents would stay the same. What actually happened was that many repairs were not completed and many housing associations did put up the rents.

I doubt that this is the final version of the Housing Bill – there will probably be a further bill in a few years’ time to close any loopholes. At the moment pensioners such as myself are exempt from paying market rent but that might not be the case in the future.

The other issue is that market rents and the value of property are going up all the time.

People are being priced out and property value is rising by as much as £300 every week, which means Right to Buy prices are also rising despite the discounts.

The idea of the Housing Bill is to demolish social housing. It has nothing to do with creating more homes and more owner-occupiers – it’s all about getting rid of social housing.

Increasing social housing rents will eventually have a knock-on effect on market rents and could mean they increase too. Private renters are not safe because they don’t have security of tenure. I believe security of tenure should be extended to private renters. We need to have a housing program where everyone has security; council tenants, housing association tenants and private renters alike. There should also be rent controls in place for everyone.

We need a program of house building that isn’t luxury flats but social housing at rents people can afford.

Renters often have to move into smaller, cheaper places and have to get rid of possessions. When I was renting in the 1970s my rent was a seventh of my income. I earned £70 a week and my rent was £10 a week. Now people are spending half or two thirds of their salary on rent.

People are being battered from all sides. You have “fuel poverty” now – that wasn’t a phrase we had in my day. People can’t afford rent and heat and food so something has to give, and these are people on moderate incomes – working people, working families.

The working classes made great inroads in the 1940s and 1950s with the welfare state and pensions but this government wants to change all that. We need to unite – renters and owner-occupiers – because we are all fighting for the same thing: a home to call our own.

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