Victory Housing Trust have announced that they have been given government funding to build 145 new houses in North Norfolk. This is the banner headline. What they don’t say, except in the very small print, is that this funding is so niggardly (less than £17,000 per property) that they are required to sell 100 existing properties to help fund the construction. So, net gain just 45; better than nothing but not such a big deal. As part of this process they have decided to review every property that becomes vacant with a view to selling it and first up is 12 Glandford Road, Cley. Leave aside the blatant attempt at news manipulation, this policy is bad news for all rural communities: these new properties are going to be built in large groups in towns – it is uneconomic to built in ones and twos – so the already dire social housing shortage in the coastal villages is going to get even worse. By government order.
We are all suffering from a wildly dysfunctional property market. Asset inflation has led to a situation where the ratio between average house prices and average wages here on the coast is up to ten times – a properly functioning property market needs a ratio of no more than three – but exLocal Authority houses usually go for about half the price of other properties so are almost affordable for the better-heeled first time buyers. The government’s answer to this problem of affordability is to offer taxpayer-funded guarantees to what are in effect sub-prime mortgages which, as the IMF and the Fitch ratings agency among others have pointed out, is what got us into this financial mess in the first place. Presumably the political calculation was that house prices rising still further would create a feel-good factor in time for the next election – at least for those who already have a house.
Thirty or so years ago housing policy ceased to be a simple matter of providing people with a decent, secure roof over their heads and became instead a creature of low politics. Thatcher’s cunning wheeze, called the “Right to Buy (at a massive discount)”, heavily sold as creating a “property owning democracy”, was actually intended to destroy council housing – why else were councils prohibited by law from spending the receipts on building replacement homes – while hopefully creating a whole new group of grateful, and thus Tory-voting, mortgagees. That this discount/bribe was paid for by the tax-payers (to the tune of £20billion to date) was an added bonus for Thatcher. New Labour (aka Tory-Lite) merely reduced the discounts on offer and freed councils to spend some of the money improving their remaining homes, a policy change promptly reversed by Cameron in 2010. Meanwhile many councils, NNDC among them, had hived off their housing to specially created Housing Associations in an attempt to preserve at least some social rented homes in their districts. The NNDC created Victory and retains nomination rights for it, and indeed for all HA homes in its area, but, while still the statutory housing authority, has no other control over their activities.
With affordable homes in increasingly short supply, and rents in the private sector going (dare I say it?) through the roof, there has been a massive increase in the Housing Benefit bill – most of it paid, don’t forget, to people who are in work. “Something must be done!” went the cry. Osborne, once more playing Baldrick to Cameron’s Blackadder, came up with another cunning plan: tax any social-rented tenant receiving housing benefit who is deemed to have a ‘spare’ bedroom. That the shortage of smaller properties to move into means most will be forced into the private sector where the rents are even higher, so pushing up the housing benefit bill still further, doesn’t seem to have occurred to our economically challenged Chancellor, so intent was he to pander to the prejudices of the Daily Mail reading classes.
How many Glaven Valley residents are affected by this wheeze is unknown – there’s bound to be a few – and how they’ll cope is also unknown. Some will be forced out of their homes and will have to move away thus probably losing their jobs as well. What is for sure – if any of them are Victory tenants – that’ll be another house on the market. Who knows, perhaps a private landlord will buy it and let it out at twice the old rent. What would Queenie say to that?
PS: If you are being charged for an “excess” bedroom, check the size of the smallest bedroom as anything below 70 square feet is classified as a boxroom and so doesn’t count. I mention this because the third bedroom in the Glandford Road houses is indeed fractionally less than 9 ft by 7 ft. This may well also be the case in other houses built by the erstwhile Erpingham RDC in the 1950s. This is not covered by the statute (which gives no definition of what constitutes a bedroom) but has been established by a legal precedent in a court in Fife.