Selling off council housing was a big mistake. As more people exercised their “right to buy” under Thatcher, the stock of council housing dwindled, taking away the safety net for individuals and families who could not afford either to rent privately or own their own home.
People who are vulnerable or on low incomes quite rightly look to the council for help. We have a duty to house people and prevent homelessness.
But, as time has passed, it’s become harder to do so – the housing stock is smaller and the waiting list is longer.
Local authorities built on average 147,000 social homes a year at the height of council house building in the 1950s. Today that figure is around 1,400, or less than 1 per cent.
Rising house prices and rents mean that it has become harder for young people to afford to stay in the city where they grew up.
The impact is evident – we have a council house waiting list of just over 9,000, a visible homeless community living on our streets and countless more people sofa surfing and reliant on the kindness of friends for somewhere to spend the night.
Finally, the government got the message that we needed councils to build homes in larger numbers if we are ever to turn the situation around and recognise that everyone has the right to a safe, warm home.
They lifted the “housing revenue account” borrowing cap last year, offering councils a financing mechanism to build much-needed homes.
Here in Brighton and Hove, the Labour-led council will be looking to buy back homes that have been lost under the “right to buy”.
We have also pledged to provide a minimum of 800 new council homes over the next four years, creating jobs in the local economy and making council housing available to more local people.
To meet our zero-carbon goal and prevent fuel poverty, every new home needs to be energy efficient, built from sustainable materials and have easy access to public transport and cycle lanes.
Wednesday 31 July 2019 marked 100 years since the Addison Act. This law enabled councils to become large-scale builders of social housing to address the housing shortage after the First World War.
Now we have a similar opportunity – but this time let’s keep what we build in local authority control and stop the sale of council housing.
Councillor Nancy Platts is the Labour leader of Brighton and Hove City Council.
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