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Affordable housing sold off to ‘social landlords’

This article is over 11 years, 1 months old
Dave Sewell looks at how decades of attacks on council housing created ‘social housing’—and how this failed to solve Britain’s growing housing crisis
Issue 2349

Today just 7 percent of England’s population live in council homes. When Margaret Thatcher came to office it was almost half.

Much of the stock was sold off outright through her destructive right to buy policy. 

But a great deal has been semi-privatised in transfers to housing associations. Councils got rid of 1.3 million homes in this way between 1988 and 2012.

Since 2010 there have been fewer people living in local authority-run housing than are with housing associations. 

The Tories and Lib Dems, like New Labour before them, try to paper over the difference between the two in the phoney category of “social housing”.

But they know the difference is real. That’s why Tory communities and local government secretary Eric Pickles has been leaning on them to start a new round of transfers.

The banks know it too. There’s big money in these “social landlords”—they issued some £4 billion worth of bonds on the financial markets last year. 

The largest is Sanctuary Housing Association with 70,888 properties.

Most are classed as not for profit. Yet they are expected to be just as ruthless as outright private businesses in guaranteeing that their investors will get their money’s worth.

And of course, the tenants know it. If you rent at a housing association, you’re likely to pay 11 percent more than if you rented from the council.


You’re also more likely to be evicted, as most housing association tenancies are classed as “assured” rather than “secure”.

This means you can be evicted for breaking the landlord’s own rules, whereas the council would have to take you to court for breaking the law. 

Now housing associations have shown what they really think of their tenants. 

In Manchester, Eastlands Housing Association suggested in leaflets sent to tenants last month that they were wasting money on bingo or Sky TV.

Other associations have responded to benefit cuts by grilling tenants on where they shop and how they travel. 

But thinking that they know best how poor people should live than  is what social landlords have always been about.

Their history goes back to the rich Victorian philanthropists who thought they could change London’s poor by taking control of their housing.

The sector expanded in the post-war period, with small housing associations often claiming to be able to offer more control and resident input than council housing. 

But over the last 20 years that has been pushed aside with a vast concentration into giant companies. 

Far from just being council homes under another name, landlords like this are precisely what council housing was supposed to change. 

Council housing was meant to be under the democratic control of people elected by ordinary people. 

That’s why the Tories have always hated it.

And it’s why we cannot end Britain’s housing crisis unless we  defend what’s left of it—and fight to get the rest of it back. 


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