Today’s columnist, Carrie Hedderwick: Build more council houses

File photo dated 02/10/2012 of a general view of an estate agent's 'Sold' sign outside a property, as house prices increased at their fastest rate in three years in July in further signs of a market revival, Nationwide has reported. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Friday August 2, 2013. The 3.9% year-on-year rise is the strongest annual upswing recorded since August 2010 and takes average prices to �170,825, according to the building society's figures. See PA story ECONOMY House. Photo credit should read: Chris Ison/PA Wire
File photo dated 02/10/2012 of a general view of an estate agent's 'Sold' sign outside a property, as house prices increased at their fastest rate in three years in July in further signs of a market revival, Nationwide has reported. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Friday August 2, 2013. The 3.9% year-on-year rise is the strongest annual upswing recorded since August 2010 and takes average prices to �170,825, according to the building society's figures. See PA story ECONOMY House. Photo credit should read: Chris Ison/PA Wire
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The desperate issue of insufficient and unaffordable housing crops up again and again in the election debates. Whether you are trying to buy or rent a home – both are prohibitively expensive

In Sheffield, there is a chronic lack of housing with thousands on the council’s waiting list, thousands in overpriced, insecure private rented accommodation, thousands tied into precarious mortgages. The 2013 State of Sheffield report predicted the need to build 1,300 houses each year to match demand yet house-building is at an all time low due to the government’s disastrous policy of relying on the private housing market.

Council housing : Right to Buy (RTB), stock transfers to housing associations and demolition have reduced the Council’s housing stock from 90,000 plus houses in the early 1980s to 42,000 now. And many houses sold under RT B have now been bought by private landlords who are profiting from what was once a public asset. As to the promise of replacement with new homes, out of the receipts nationally from RTB, totalling £1.54bn since 2012, only £588.3m, a third, has been ploughed back into replacement housing. New build in Sheffield has mostly been done by HAs. The council is a player in the Sheffield Housing Company, a private/ public partnership that builds houses for sale and for rent. BUT only about 8 per cent are for rent, and those are at 80 per cent of the market rent so not truly affordable. Obviously too, the council has only partial control, and gains only a percentage of the income generated.

Housing Associations (HAs) were originally set up to cater for groups with specific needs but became major players when Thatcher’s policies starved local councils of funding to refurbish or new build their housing stock. HAs are private companies, but they are not-for-profit organisations and do cater for social need. Now Cameron has offered Right to Buy to HA tenants. This will diminish the ‘affordable’ social housing stock still further; and the compounded outrage is that the ‘discounts’ will be paid for by local councils’ being forced to sell off more of their assets. Cameron’s plans are a further attack on local authorities’ already savaged budgets.

A million privately rented properties nationally fail to meet basic health and safety standards; inflated rents are at an all-time high creating a Housing Benefit bill of £20bn nationally; tenancies are short term and insecure. Sheffield has its unfair share of rogue landlords.

The Communist Party calls for local councils to have the freedom and resources to build more houses and flats for rent for local families and young workers. Interest rates are far lower for public sector funding, while the private housing sector has shown itself utterly incapable of meeting even this most basic of human needs.

The Labour Party has pledged to scrap the iniquitous Bedroom Tax, cap private rents and introduce three-year tenancies in the private rented sector but it needs to go further. The Communist Party urges Labour to end council house sales, to reverse housing stock transfers and to provide councils with the necessary funds for repairs and for building, a programme of new, highly insulated, sustainable council homes. Increased supply in the public sector would curb inflationary rents and house prices.

* Carrie Hedderwick, agent for Steve Andrew, Community Party Candidate, Sheffield Central