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Members of the TUSC deputation and other supporters outside Leeds Civic Hall calling for a 'not-for-profit' letting agency and building council housing (1/4/15)

Members of the TUSC deputation and other supporters outside Leeds Civic Hall calling for a ‘not-for-profit’ letting agency and building council housing (1/4/15)

Leeds City Council’s Executive Board met on Wednesday 23rd September and amongst the things they considered was their response to our deputation back in April where we argue that two key elements in response to the housing crisis in Leeds would be a mass council house building programme and, as a more immediate measure to deal with issues in the private rented housing sector, the setting up of a not-for-profit letting agency.

Iain Dalton, Leeds Socialist Party & West Yorks TUSC convenor

The council’s response contains damining comments on the quality of some private rented properties. The council comment that government data shows that 16% of private rented properties don’t even manage to basic legal standards and present “a severe threat to health or safety”. This basic level the council acknowledges is “generally below those in which most reasonable people would wish to live”. This would be around 9,000 homes in Leeds, working from estimates of housing stock 4 years ago (the number is likely to higher given the increase in private rented accomodation).

Yet despite this low quality, rents are soaring. The average rent the report says is £144 a week, more than the average mortgage repayment. With the number of private renters claiming housing benefit increasing by 250% in the last decade, this is a massive subsidy to private landlords and shows the need for the introduction of rent caps.

The council talks about a range of actions to tackle the problems in private rented housing. Unfortunately, their concept of an ‘ethical lettings agency’ differs somewhat from what TUSC supporters have in mind.

The council intend to create a service for “property owners who have only one property”. Whilst this would be a step-forward, it is quite a limited letting service.

Furthermore, how they intend to fund it also raises some concerns, by withdrawing funding from inspecting HMOs and replacing it with a self-regulating scheme. Most students will be suprised when the council claim that students HMO’s are “a sector that already provides a good standard of accommodation.”

The council claims that tenants problems with letting agencies can be solved through the fact that these bodies are part of mandatory ‘Property Redress Schemes’. But one of our biggest issues is the huge sign-on fees demanded by letting agents as part of getting a property anyhow. Apart from possibly those one property landlords who may come into the new ethical letting agencies scheme, this doesn’t tackle this issue.

But the council have a willful ignorance of the points we were making about council house building. With a waiting list of around 20,000, the council’s current plans to build around 1,000 new homes is a drop in the ocean, especially when some housing stock is being demolished to make way for them. Scandalously, the council is using rip-off PFI funding to build these homes.

A far bigger council house building programme is needed to tackle this crisis in the long term, as undoubtedly there are many private sector tenants that would be prefered to be housed in quality council housing.

A mass campaign must be built to fighting for decent housing for all. If the council’s Labour leadership was serious about taking on those who benefit from rip-off rents and letting fees in the private sector they could help build such a campaign, instead of tweaking only at the edges of housing policy.

We will be continuing our campaign and Leeds TUSC will be organising a lobby of the Council Executive which meets to consider this on 10th February 2016 assembling at 12 noon outside the Civic Hall. (Join the facebook event – https://www.facebook.com/events/140265836326933/)

You can view the documents from the council’s executive meeting here http://democracy.leeds.gov.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=102&MId=7244