Affordable Housing

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:14 pm on 22nd October 2002.

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Photo of Margaret Moran Margaret Moran Labour, Luton South 6:14 pm, 22nd October 2002

I notice that the hon. Gentleman has no answers to the specific questions that my hon. Friends and I have raised. He simply does not understand the way in which registered social landlords and housing associations are funded.

I want to comment on the right to buy and the related issues that we need to address. As we have all pointed out, the need for affordable social housing is great and is increasing, which means that we need to sustain the increased investment resulting from the spending review over a longer period. I ask the Minister to look at the record of the former Secretary of State, my right hon. Friend Mr. Byers, who brought forward more than #100 million of housing corporation-approved development programme funding from 2003–04, so that new houses can be built now, rather than backloading the programme. In view of the current crisis, such action will have a greater impact now, and I ask that the Minister consider that option in his winding-up speech.

I want to comment on a few of the shorter-term issues that need to be addressed. We need to roll out choice-based lettings swiftly. The pilots seem to be working, and in areas of housing crisis such as my own, we have to make some difficult choices. We need to give tenants some opportunities, so that they can make the distinction between the length of time spent on a waiting list, and the chance to move to other areas, difficult though that is. In the short term, families in areas such as mine who need five-bedroom housing, but who are living in two-bedroom accommodation, are unable to be moved at all because of the way the rules work. It would be far better to prevent those families from breaking up—thereby preventing the attendant social consequences—by being a bit more flexible and allowing them to move to properties that are not necessarily ideal. Those families need to understand the options available to them. That is grown up and difficult, but those are the sort of decisions that we face.

There are simple, small measures that we could adopt. When we, as owner-occupiers, do not want to move, we build extensions to our houses. Why are local authorities not incentivised to do the same? The opportunity exists to do so. We certainly need to address the issue of empty private sector properties. For every homeless family in Luton, there are seven empty private sector properties. We also need to consider the balance in VAT charges on renovation and new build.