Karen Lee MP: The right to safe and affordable homes

Like many Lincoln residents, I was delighted by the Labour-run City of Lincoln Council’s recent announcement that 172 new council-owned properties will be made available over the next six months. This is a fantastic and much-needed development in the effort to meet the demand for genuinely affordable housing in the city.

The new homes will be located on Allenby Close near Monks Road, Lytton Street in the Stamp End area, Ingleby Crescent near Ermine and the former school site on Westwick Drive in Boultham.

I actually lived for a while on Turner Avenue, and have very fond memories of that time. The new homes will also decrease the waiting list by transferring current council tenants to the new properties and creating space for applicants waiting on the Housing Register.

Whilst Lincoln is now on track to achieve its goal of providing at least 400 new council homes by 2020, it is important to recognise that this good news comes in spite of the national housing crisis caused by eight years of Tory austerity.

Under this Government, home-ownership has fallen to a 30-year low, and the average home now costs eight times the average annual salary. Britain is still suffering a hangover from Margaret Thatcher’s right-to-buy policy; over 50,000 social rented homes are sold-off each year, leaving our council housing stocks severely depleted. As a result, too many people in Lincoln and across the UK are unable to access the decent housing which is the foundation for a good and stable life.

Rather than being held back by central government, it is crucial that councils like ours in Lincoln are supported with funding, powers and flexibilities so that they can build at the scale that is demanded.
The next Labour government will launch the biggest council housebuilding programme for over 30 years and build more than 100,000 new genuinely affordable homes each year.

At a time when more people in Lincoln are renting from the private sector, it is also reassuring that Lincoln’s council recognises the need for new housing to be genuinely affordable. 1.7 million people in the UK pay over a third of their income each month to a private landlord, and the Conservatives have stretched the truth to breaking point by allowing over-priced housing to be labelled ‘affordable’, including so-called ‘affordable rent’ homes which are priced at up to 80% of market rates.

This government’s scandalous and deceitful redefinition of affordability does not only rip-off tenants, as over £20 billion a year of taxpayers’ money goes in housing benefit payments to plug the gap between housing costs and household incomes.

I am proud that Labour has a commitment to establish a new legal definition of an ‘affordable home’, linked to local incomes and not to market prices, which will help people in Lincoln access housing that they can genuinely afford.

I also welcome Lincoln Labour council’s commitment to protect private renters by continuing the ‘Rogue Landlords’ scheme, by increasing the number of inspections of private sector properties and, where necessary, undertaking enforcement action to improve their quality.

As Labour’s Shadow Fire Minister, I see first-hand the appalling and dangerous conditions that too many working people are forced to live in. If we are to truly learn lessons from the Grenfell Tower atrocity, fire safety regulations and the rights of affordable housing residents must be strengthened.

It is particularly vital that all homes in Lincoln are sustainable and safe to live in. The latest government statistics showed that Lincoln has a fuel poverty level of 11.6%, which is higher than the county average. To tackle this, Lincoln council is aiming to reduce the number of properties without central heating by 200 over the next two years.

I am proud that Lincoln’s Labour led council is doing all it can to secure quality, genuinely affordable housing, but councils should not have to work against a government which refuses to reverse decades of inaction and underfunding in the housing sector.

For good news stories to become the norm, tenants need a Labour government that will properly fund and support our councils to ensure everyone can have a safe and decent home.