With latest figures showing an astonishing increase in the number of empty properties in Hackney (from 795 to 2895 in the space of just a year), we reprint here an article from The Guardian’s website arguing the case for local councils taking over ownership of private properties left vacant for no good reason.
(Friday October 10, 2003 – Society Guardian website)
As consultation ends on a scheme to force landlords to bring their empty properties back into use, Jack Dromey urges the government to take measures to implement it
With all the talk at the moment of a housing crisis, you could be forgiven for not picking up on the fact that there are a startling 729,770 empty homes across England. Not a lot of people know that but just think of the contribution that they could make to meeting housing need?
While some of these empty homes are in areas of low demand for housing, over half are empty where there is high housing need. In London and the south-east, for example, there are just under 185,000 empty homes. Of this total more than 80% are in the private sector and 70,000 have been empty for more than six months.
Yet in 2002 there were around 59,000 families registered as homeless in the same region.
The debate on empty homes in this country has moved on. It is no longer about the shocking management of empty homes by the NHS, Ministry of Defence or local councils, as much work has been undertaken in this area over the last decade. The big challenge now is bringing back into use those long-term empty private homes to meet increasing housing need.
To date local authorities across the land have adopted empty property strategies and have worked with private owners of empty homes to ensure the homes are brought back into use. Through targeted grants programmes, and gaining the associated nomination rights, empty homes have been brought back into use.
Yet a voluntary approach is only sadly going to take us so far. Take just one local authority, the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham, which has for many years run a progressive empty property strategy. Despite this excellent work, the council still found itself with over 1,000 properties where their approaches had been turned down. In many cases these owners are “accidental landlords”. They may be owners of a shop, with a flat upstairs, or landlords who have inherited a property. The best long-term solution is to turn these landlords into good landlords or encourage them to make a decision to get out of the property business rather than force them out of it.
An idea was developed with such properties in areas of high housing need, where a good reason can’t be given for keeping the property empty, and the owner has turned down offers of assistance, the local authority should have the discretionary power to take over the management of the property.
The authority would undertake the necessary capital works to make good the house and then the rental income stream could pay for this work. Once the debts had been paid, the management of the house would revert back to the owner. As the management period neared completion, the owner would be offered training on being a landlord or advice on how they could continue letting out the house. The key issue with this idea is that ownership is not the issue it is occupation.
Indeed it can be seen as a win win solution. The owners receive an income and their property is improved, housing need is met and the community loses another empty home and its ability to attract crime and vandalism.
Such a scheme was advocated by the Local Government Association in its submission to the housing and planning select committee and is supported by Shelter, the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors and indeed my own union the Transport and General Workers’ Union. And a number of local authorities are expressing interest in this scheme, from Southampton to Salford showing that this idea is not one restricted just to London.
The recent select committee investigation into empty homes in 2002 recommended a pilot scheme to test such a scheme and the government responded with interest to this idea. In their Communities’ Plan published on 5th February 2003, the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister announced that it was minded to go out to public consultation on this issue, and a consultation paper was launched at the joint Empty Homes Agency/Social Market Foundation conference in May.
And we have now come to the end of a three-month public consultation period. The government has responded quickly to the campaign run by the Empty Homes Agency, but it must not lose momentum. Compulsory leasing (or empty homes management orders as the government prefers to call it) has massive potential to increase the supply of affordable housing by using existing assets. This is a radical idea but one that we need to put into action fast.
For that reason I call upon the government to include compulsory leasing in the housing bill when it returns to parliament in the next session. With the current intense pressure for new housing the government must turn this idea from rhetoric to reality soon. We can’t afford to wait.
Jack Dromey is the national convenor at the Transport and General Workers’ Union
For more information on the IWCA’s policies on this issue see www.iwca.info
Hackney Independent Working Class Association (www.hackneyiwca.fsnet.co.uk) this week launch their Independent Kids’ Cinema with 4 showings of the Disney film ATLANTIS
The Independent Kids’ Cinema is a series of film shows put on for local kids in community centres, with the help and support of Tenants Associations. We ran a successful pilot in the summer half term and are now launching it with 4 showings on 4 different Hackney estates.
The IWCA has always made a point of getting involved in the local community. We argue that young people need more facilities and more investment in their future, and that working class areas have suffered most with council cutbacks. This is a chance to put our money where our mouth is.
WHERE & WHEN
Goldsmith’s Community Centre – Thursday 28th August 10am
Fellows Court Community Centre – Thursday 28th August 3.30pm
Haggerston Community Centre – Friday 29th August 11am
Arden Estate Community Hall – Friday 29th August 4pm
Working class rule in working class areas!
In a typically tasteless display of Hackney Council’s real priorities, councillors have awarded themselves a sizeable pay rise while at the same time overseeing the cuts to summer playscheme places. In a letter to the Hackney Gazette, which reported both stories last week, Carl Taylor responds:
I have to congratulate the gazette, once again, for juxtaposing two stories in last week’s edition, which demonstrate the misplaced priorities of Hackney Council: “Councillors give themselves pay rise” and “No place to go”, about the reduction in summer playscheme places for 5 -13 year olds from 36 schemes to just six.
This will, of course, as Hackney Play Association say, “have a direct impact on youth offending and anti-social behaviour”.
The ‘confusion’ of responsibility between the Council and the Learning Trust is not a new phenomenon. The recent closure of Laburnum School was, according to the council, the responsibility of the Learning Trust, while the LT (quoted in a national newspaper) maintain that “… they [Hackney Council] retain ultimate authority for education in the borough”. As with other Hackney Council privatisations, for example the late but unlamented ITNet debacle in the Housing Benefit service, it is easy to see how this abdication of responsibility is very convenient for those who are supposed to be accountable to their electors.
Now we have the sickening spectacle of large pay rises for councilors, recommended by an “independent” panel. Luke Akehurst asks us to believe that this will safeguard them against “allegations of having our noses in the trough”. I – and no doubt other Gazette readers – would be very interested to know exactly who made up this independent panel. Are they as independent as they unconvincingly claim Learning Trust to be? And how does this unjustifiably pay hike square with the cuts being made to youth provision in the borough?
You might be able to fool some of us some of the time, but you ain’t fooling all of us all of the time!
16th June 2003
Hackney IWCA has discovered that the destruction of the Victorian former school in Dawson St E2, next to the Hackney Rd Bingo Hall, is nearly complete. Local residents received a letter from Hackney’s Planning Department on Saturday 24 May 2003 informing them that the plans for a 5-storey block of flats were due to be considered at the Planning Committee meeting on Tuesday 27 May. With the Bank Holiday in between this gave residents just one working day’s notice of the meeting, but the letter announced that the Planning Department was to recommend approval of the flats in any case.
This puts to bed another questionable property deal by Hackney Council. The premises were donated to the Borough for community use, and in recent years used by the council’s Social Services department. Last year the entire school building and its grounds was sold – for the criminally low sum of £526,500 according to HM Land Registry (this in a part of Hackney where a tiny terraced house will set you back £300,000!) – to a developer who immediately put forward plans for 22 residential flats and a tiny “D1 community use” area on the ground floor. The development met with concerted opposition from local residents, with 40-odd households objecting to the plans in writing. It’s not hard to do the sums: after selling their 22 flats the new landowner will still clear a million or two comfortably. And it’s not hard to guess who’ll be moving into the flats. Certainly not hard-up tenants from nearby Fellows Court!
Interestingly, the property is now owned by Goodview Ltd who are currently featured on the front of Hackney Labour Party’s website because they want to demolish a pub and build… a block of flats! In that story Labour Party councillors are quoted at length under the headline ‘”Don’t call time on The Vic” say Labour councillors’. Cllr Boyd is quoted as saying, “I am horrified at the proposal to demolish this historic building”. As a local resident has told us “It’s interesting to note the councillors’ sense of priority: they’ll scream and shout and fight to save a pub, but won’t lift a finger to prevent the demolition of a community centre by the same developer. Local people are disgusted by the council’s lack of consultation over this and want to find out how this happened”.
And it would seem Hackney Council aren’t too happy to let people access their records on this sale, claiming that the sale price for the land had been archived and was therefore unavailable. Hackney IWCA and local tenants will be investigating the whole matter further…
Over the last half term holiday, Hackney IWCA put on two kids cinema events with the support of Goldsmith’s and Geffrye Estate Tenants Associations. The events were a great success, pulling in over 60 children in total on what turned out to be one of the hottest days of the year.
For their 50p entry charge, all those present received a bag of crisps and a drink and a showing of Harry Potter, The Philosopher’s Stone. Thanks to the success of the events and the feedback from kids, parents and the TA members who came along and got involved, we’ve decided to run future events in the summer holiday, expanding the showings to reach other estates.
Geffrye Estate – under the spell of Harry Potter
“This used to be our library” – graffiti on a new development off Whiston Rd.
Before becoming a nursery for hospital staff, the new yuppie development was a local library.
In another blow to Hackney Council, a report published by OFSTED (the government inspectors of schools) criticises the education service in the borough, stating “Our conclusion to this report is simple and straightforward, but deeply depressing: We do not believe that Hackney local authority has the capacity to provide a secure, stable context for continuous educational improvement.”
What this means for Hackney’s children is not yet clear, but there is already talk of all education services being privatised. Of course, the whole issue of education is one that means a lot to any parent, but the situation for working class parents is bleak in the wake of this report. While middle class parents can afford private nurseries (and even have the option of moving out of the Borough before little Toby has to mix with the rough kids), working class families have to use what facilities the borough provides.
Hackney Council has not supported its schools because our middle class councillors and senior officers do not use them. What’s proposed is privatisation of the Local Education Authority, and if education goes the same way as the benefits service under ITNet, there will be bad times ahead. In the case of ITNet, the service provided by the council was already poor; the council privatised it and ITNet made it worse. Privatisation won’t give more support to our schools.
For more information click on the link here: BBC news report