David Gibson: How we can ease city’s housing crisis

David Gibson, Brighton and Hove Green councillor and Living Rent campaigner
David Gibson, Brighton and Hove Green councillor and Living Rent campaigner

The housing ‘market’ is broken. Even the Government admits it. It’s clear that previous policies focused on deregulation and privatisation have failed – and we need a change of approach.

New leader of the Labour council, Daniel Yates, has pledged to make the city’s housing crisis a ‘top priority.’

If Cllr Yates is serious about housing, we need to see action: on homelessness, providing affordable council homes and spending housing money that currently lies unused.

Nothing illustrates the problems with housing more than the shocking rise in homelessness. Brighton and Hove has the second highest number of rough sleepers in the country. It is a scandal that people wait for months on the streets to be housed – while their health deteriorates with every passing day.

On top of our earlier work to kick start a new night shelter for the city, Greens want to see Brighton and Hove develop a hub that would pick up the newly homeless fast, provide them with support, and use available resources to expand supported and ‘move-on’ accommodation to get people off the streets.

In 2014, Greens piloted Housing First, an approach to help ‘revolving door rough sleepers’ being failed by the system. Instead of making housing conditional on engaging in services, Housing First provides repeatedly homeless people with a base where they receive support. This approach works – and the Labour Council should embrace it.

Good progress has been made building new council houses with the support of all parties. However rents on these homes are almost double current council rents and not truly affordable for people on a low income.

On top of this, private sector rents in the city swallow up a huge proportion of people’s incomes. Nationally, Labour proposes a limit in rent increases, but in Brighton and Hove rents are already far too high, and need to be brought down in stages. The Labour leader of the council needs to speak up for a national Labour policy which phases a lowering of rents in overheated areas such as ours. We urgently need to expand affordable housing, build more low-cost housing and make the rented sector truly affordable for tenants.

While control of private rents needs national legislation, I believe there are some landlords who are willing to voluntarily limit their rents. Along with Cllr Tracey Hill and some of the city’s landlords’ organisations, I have been developing a pioneering scheme whereby landlords offer their properties at more affordable rents to lower income households. ‘Good Landlord’ schemes like this are one way to create change in the private rented sector.

Prioritising housing also requires efficient use of the resources at the council’s disposal. Despite the housing crisis, over £30 million –borrowed by the council for housing – is being sat on. It is tragic that in such difficult times, this Government money is going unused. Cllr Yates’ top priority should be to sort out why this money has not yet been spent – and then use it.

It’s also time to bring emergency accommodation in-house. In Brighton and Hove, the cost of privately-provided emergency accommodation has soared to £2.77m, an increase of over £800k on the previous year. Instead of publicly subsidised rents going to private landlords, the council could provide its own temporary accommodation at a much lower cost to the public purse. Other councils that are doing this have already reported huge savings and, crucially, a better service.

It’s clear there’s more that can be done.

If Cllr Yates is serious (and I think he is) about making housing a priority, let’s get a move on and back solutions that work.

David Gibson is the housing spokesperson for the Greens on Brighton & Hove City Council.