Several years ago, our party adopted a policy of building 300K new homes a year. The Government today accepts that figure – but it will never achieve it unless it changes its priorities and unlocks the capacity of local government to help solve the crisis.
This motion explains how we should deliver the homes we need to address a housing crisis which continues to get worse. We have built 100K homes too few every year for the past 20 years. The result is rising homelessness and one in five of our households living in the private rented sector in conditions which can be very poor and where tenure can be insecure.
The Government has spent too much on pursuing subsidies for owner occupation at the expense of building social homes for rent. Help to Buy has encouraged increases in house prices and has fuelled the share prices of large builders for whom hoarding land is central to their business planning. Young people face grave difficulties in putting together the deposits necessary to buy a home.
Too many people in work on the living wage cannot afford to live reasonably close to where they work. Too many people are being forced to spend more than a third of their income on housing costs and too many people are being forced to sleep rough or to depend on temporary accommodation because they cannot find a permanent place to call home.
This motion is about delivering the housing we need at prices which are genuinely affordable to all income groups.
- The right of every person to live in an affordable, secure home in a safe environment.
- The long-standing commitment of the Liberal Democrats to achieve this by building 300,000 homes a year over the next decade.
- The commitment of the Liberal Democrats to slow climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Conference notes that:
- Homelessness is at record levels with rough sleeping rising, large numbers of young people sofa hopping and tens of thousands of homeless families trapped in unsuitable temporary accommodation.
- Over the last decade Government subsidies for rent through housing benefit have tripled to around ś25 billion (of which ś10 billion goes to private landlords) when subsidies to increase the supply of social housing have declined to around ś1 billion a year.
- The ratio of house prices to gross average earnings per head is at record levels of around 10 to 1 and that as a result home ownership has become unaffordable for most young people and for most people on average incomes.
- Too many people have been forced into the private rented sector which now provides one fifth of all homes in the UK, a third of which fail to meet the Decent Homes Standard.
- Government policies to promote owner occupation through taxpayer subsidies have boosted demand and house prices without effective measures to increase supply and affordability.
- The number of new social homes has contracted from over 200,000 a year at its peak to the unacceptable level of just 1,400 social home starts in 2017/18.
- The market in land does not work in the public interest, with large builders getting unearned rewards for hoarding land and restricting supply with house prices forced upwards thus making homes unaffordable for most first-time buyers, and the present system of viability assessments for affordable housing being too weighted in favour of the developer leading to inflated land prices at the expense of infrastructure, affordable housing, and design quality.
- One and a half million council homes have been sold under the Right to Buy with only one replacement for every five sold.
- Many people are impoverished by the cost of heating damp or poorly insulated homes, with inefficient fossil fuel and costly heating systems.
Conference believes that:
- Government housing policies have increased social, financial and inter-generational inequalities.
- There are still too many long-term empty homes which are seen as financial investments rather than places to live.
- Local government can play a critical role in achieving the number of homes required by directing the use of publicly owned land before disposal for affordable and social housing and by being able to borrow both to buy land for housing and to build it.
- In the private rented sector there should be:
- A system of mandatory licensing with a publicly available database of rogue landlords.
- Promotion of longer private tenancies with inflation or wage-linked rents.
- A right to buy (or first refusal) for sitting tenants when a landlord sells.
- A cap on upfront tenant deposits.
- A ban letting agents' fees.
- Green space in towns and urban areas and green field between towns are vital components of our quality of life and provide essential protection for neighbourhoods against urban sprawl.
- Poor quality or disused land (for example, former petrol stations and warehouses) defined as green belt may be suitable for development as part of local or neighbourhood planning.
- 'Rent to Own' homes would enable many younger people to get on the housing ladder without a deposit by renting from housing associations at a market level rent giving them an increasing stake in their property over time.
- Second home owners should always pay their fair share of local taxation for the provision of local services.
- Fiscal incentives could help to encourage older owner occupiers to downsize their properties and should therefore be considered further.
- Taking action to improve domestic heating systems and the thermal properties of housing would have the effect of reducing both poverty and greenhouse gas emissions.
- The problems of fuel poverty and high per capita greenhouse gas emissions tend to be greater in rural areas where mains gas is not available and where heating tends to be by more expensive and more polluting oil fired systems, or in smaller homes by expensive electrical resistive heating.
Conference calls for:
- The creation of a British Housing Company as a dedicated, arms-length, not for profit non-governmental body to acquire land of low amenity at current use value through compulsory acquisition to reduce prohibitive land costs and excessive developer profits.
- Removal of the cap on local authority borrowing.
- The construction of 50,000 social homes for rent per year by both councils and housing associations rising as soon as practicable to 100,000 a year.
- Local authorities to have the power to decide on the availability of Right to Buy in their areas and for Right to Buy receipts to be reinvested in social housing.
- A big expansion in 'Rent to Own' where occupants pay rent to housing associations, in return for an increasing stake in the property over time.
- Higher quality, safety and environmental standards in the existing housing stock including the retrofitting of 4 million homes to higher standards.
- The introduction of a new use class in the Planning “Use Classes Order” for “Non-Permanent Occupancy”, to enable local communities to determine how many, or what proportion of, homes may be second/holiday homes and to provide a stronger statutory definition on which to apply appropriate tax, entitlement, voter registration and other policy to ensure a fair and
balanced management of the available local housing resource.
- An increase to 500% in council tax levied where homes are being deliberately bought as investment properties and left empty for long periods with a stamp duty surcharge on overseas residents purchasing such properties.
- The Government to deliver its commitment to building 300,000 homes a year by i) ensuring the workforce in the construction industry is sufficient to build them ii) encouraging new building techniques to build quality new homes in shorter timescales.
- Local government to adopt a civic house building model working in partnership with developers and supported by a planning system which is less about gatekeeping planning applications and more about creating places in which people want to live, work and play.
- Higher and better enforced thermal standards for new, extended or refurbished housing, including the requirement for renewable energy based heating or generating equipment for properties not connected to the gas grid, and a requirement that social and private rental houses have minimum energy rating of C, to be enforced on re-let or by 2024 if no change of tenant.
- Amend the Housing Act 1988 so as to increase the notice that landlords must give tenants (after the initial minimum fixed term of 6 months) from 2 months to at least 6 months.