By Ken Perry
Your Harlow spoke to Harlow Councillor and Portfolio Holder for Housing Rod Truan about the current housing situation in Harlow.
Councillor Truan stated that “council housing is a big part of housing in Harlow because we have 9,000 council houses and 2,000 leaseholder properties.” This amounts to about a third of housing in the town which is high when compared to other areas of the country.
Right to Buy has placed many houses into the hands of buy-to-let-investors, which has led to a disparity between people living in council houses that charge affordable rents, compared to those renting in the private sector, some of whom are paying extortionate rents.
Harlow’s Hosing Needs Register currently has about 4,000 signatories, highlighting the need for more houses in Harlow.
Councillor Truan praised both the outgoing Labour government and the coalition government for their enabling of local councils through self-financing. Councillor Truan said that self-financing has allowed Harlow Council to keep revenue from rent which has in turn allowed the council to spend the revenue to address the town’s needs. The councillor noted that this has been “really positive for Harlow.”
Self-financing has allowed Harlow to build the first council homes in 30 years.
Despite some positivity on Harlow’s public housing sector, Councillor Truan raised his concern with Harlow’s private housing sector “being left behind” because the council cannot do anything about the falling standard of private housing in Harlow which houses tenants to deal with the shortfall in public housing. The councillor was keen to “set an example for the private sector” through the current investment that is improving Harlow’s public housing stock.
Councillor Truan criticised some national politicians for being out of touch with regard to the housing issue due to those politicians coming from “safe and secure backgrounds” resulting in lack of appreciation with regard to the importance of the UKs housing needs.
When pressed on the issue that many voters feel that they are effectively being penalised for paying for houses through private mortgages, whilst having to subsidise council housing, Councillor Truan replied that council housing “is not subsidised because people over the term of their tenancy pay for that house over and over again.”
Councillor Truan added: “I understand where these voter’s concerns come from, but what we shouldn’t have is a position where council tenants are being demonised.” The councillor argued that a mixed economy of housing that’s affordable and effective for all through the building of more council houses would give people the choice between council or private housing.
One particular issue that has come to the forefront with social housing is the selling of public houses to private landlords, who then rent the property to tenants waiting for a council house. This results in the Government having to pay market rates of rent whilst tenants wait to be housed in the public sector. Councillor Truan responded that this was the issue that was costing the taxpayer because they are “paying for higher housing costs.” This has resulted in situation where housing benefit has become what Councillor Truan has described as a “landlord tax, which effectively means that landlords are making lots of money out of housing benefit.” Councillor Truan said that more public housing would bring this cost down.
Harlow Council is hoping to transfer the duties of Kier, a company that has worked with the council for a number of years on housing maintenance, into the hands of a Local Authority Trading Company. Councillor Truan praised the move, revealing that the Local Authority Trading Company will reduce the financial risks to Harlow Council whilst allowing it to “take a flexible approach to reducing the budget.”
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