Use unspent millions on council homes

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

Money available for housing in our city isn’t being used. 
With the city facing a housing crisis, it’s vital we start to put it to work.

Three and half years ago, there was £41m available to borrow- enough to take action on homelessness and provide new council housing. As of today, £31m of this is still available.

This is a tragic waste of normally scarce resources and with a housing crisis, it’s reasonable to ask: how has this waste has been allowed to happen?

The Labour administration failed to plan ahead and provide the staff needed to deliver the largest possible housing programme that the city urgently needs.

Yet despite having millions in resources available, the proposed housing programme for this year is smaller, with current proposals set at £7million less than last year. Rather than sitting on unspent funds, Greens are calling for quick, achievable action, putting that £7m to use in buying buildings for homeless accommodation and more council housing and the staff to deliver this. We have the money, we have a homeless crisis and truly affordable housing shortage and we need to get on and do what we can as a council.

One of the quickest ways to relieve the housing crisis is to buy buildings. Over a year ago, unanimous support was given to a Green proposal calling on the council to provide its own emergency homeless accommodation, replacing the private companies growing fat on public subsidy. Yet despite Greens proposing a budget, the two other parties sadly voted together to turn this down - and no progress has been made. However this year, with a new council leader and no budget pact between the other parties, we are hoping for a better outcome.

In addition to buying buildings, we are calling on the council to use these resources to provide new council houses at truly affordable rents.

Every year, the council loses around 55 social-rent homes to the ‘Right to Buy,’ yet has replaced less than 50 a year with council homes that are then offered at almost double the cost – a price far from ‘affordable’ for many in the city. The new fund, based on profits from other council house building schemes, would enable some of the replacement council homes to be let at social or ‘living rents’ for those on lower incomes. The principle of doing this was agreed unanimously at housing committee – and we need it to happen.

It would be a failure of our responsibility as councillors not to do what we can with the unspent money. The number of rough sleepers and households in temporary accommodation has also increased by 17% in the last 3 years. Private rents and high-cost council rents are driving many to move away.

We are in the midst of a housing crisis, and I would urge all councillors to spend the money we have, support the homeless and provide more affordable council homes next year. Cllr David Gibson is the Green housing spokesperson