Six local organisations (listed below) have come together to launch Swindon Housing Action Campaign (SHAC) in response to the worsening housing crisis.
The organisations supporting the campaign are:
Swindon Tenants Campaign Group
Swindon Peoples Assembly
Swindon Council Labour Group
Swindon Green Party
Swindon GMB trade union
Swindon UNITE trade union
According to the new group, Swindon suffers from a crisis of affordability for both rent and ownership. It suffers from:
Ø A shortage of Council housing – our homes continue to be lost to ‘right to buy’ and not replaced;
Ø House prices which are too high for many people to afford a mortgage – prices even for the lowest quartile homes are over 5 times the lowest quartile earnings;
Ø A rapidly growing private rented sector (PRS) with insecure tenure, high rents and much poor quality housing.
The group states government policy, if unchallenged, will make the situation worse. The ‘right to buy’ is being extended to Housing Associations (HA) and Councils will have to sell ‘high value’ homes to fund it. The government is now proposing to stop Councils from including a definite percentage of social housing on new sites. It is introducing a duty to promote building ‘starter homes’ for sale. This can only lead to a decline in the number of genuinely affordable homes to rent. As the town grows the shortage of ‘social housing’ is therefore likely to become more acute without a change of policy. The housing crisis cannot be tackled without a return to a Council house building programme to address the shortage of ‘social housing’.
Between the two censuses of 2001 and 2011 the PRS in Swindon increased from 5,648 to 14,169. The numbers living in it increased from 11,735 to 32,811. Today it is estimated to be higher than 16,000. This huge growth is the result of house prices beyond the means of many and the shortage of ‘social housing’. Many young people have to either live with their parents much longer or live in the PRS with its short-term contracts, high rents, and often poor living conditions. The Office of National Statistics tells us that around a third of the PRS fails to meet the Decent Homes Standard. According to the Council an estimated 11,000 private homes have a category 1 hazard – that is a serious risk to the health and/or safety of the inhabitant. This might be excessive cold, defective electrics, fire risk, damp. We don’t know how the 11,000 is broken down but we can be sure that thousands of them are in the PRS.
Despite the massive growth of this sector Swindon Council has not devoted sufficient resources to police the sector. With the government proposing the introduction of bans on ‘rogue landlords’ and new regulations on smoke alarms, it is clear that the staff responsible for the PRS have insufficient resources. SHAC will press the Council to increase their resources.
In the meantime we will be campaigning against exploitative landlords and rip-off letting agencies in the PRS. We would like to hear from private tenants about the problems they have from letting agencies and private landlords.
1) Campaign against government attacks on ‘social housing’ such as the extension of ‘right to buy’ to housing associations and the forced sale of ‘high value’ Council homes to compensate housing associations.
2) Defend existing Council housing and campaign for a new Council house building programme to address unmet housing need.
3) Campaign against exploitative private sector landlords and poor living conditions, for regulation of the sector, more secure tenure and cheaper rents.
4) Campaign for ‘development’ which provides homes for need rather than speculative building and profiteering by ‘developers’ and builders.
Swindon Tenants Campaign Group Secretary Martin Wicks said: “Given the direction of government policy the housing crisis can only get worse. The launch of SHAC is, therefore, important in highlighting the housing crisis and its human consequences.
The town needs more Council housing, not less, but the government is abandoning support for social housing.
With the rapidly growing PRS we need a movement which involves private tenants in campaigning against ‘rogue landlords’, for better living conditions, increased security of tenure, and more affordable rents.
Without the right to a decent, affordable home, people cannot lead independent and settled lives.”
Kate Linnegar of Swindon People’s Assembly said: “For too long people have been struggling to find affordable, secure and decent homes. Shelter is a basic human right. The launch of SHAC gives people a voice to tackle the rogue landlords and to push the politicians to make positive changes.”
Steve Allsop, Swindon Council Labour Group said “Swindon Labour Group fully endorse the aims of SHAC. Swindon needs a group like SHAC to press the case for decent affordable homes. Housing is in crisis with rents rising faster than inflation and earnings. The market solution is failing with housing needs increasingly unmet. Unless we change direction we are heading into an abyss.”
Andy Bentley, Green Party Press Officer said: “The Greens recognise that affordable, secure accommodation is a human need. Successive governments have failed to control runaway housing costs, protect tenants or ensure an adequate supply of housing. This has blighted lives and placed a huge financial burden on the people, in inflated house prices and rents, and on taxpayers as Housing Benefit costs have soared.
We welcome the opportunity to join with others in SHAC, pushing not just for more homes but for better homes for the people of Swindon.”
For further information ring 07786 394593