Housing has come to dominate the calls, letters and emails that my Erdington office receives. A third of the cases my office handles are due to housing problems. I have heard the appalling story of one young woman with two children currently living in a shed at her parents’ house and in desperate need of suitable housing. Another, a man, came to my advice bureau just before Christmas and told me he and his young daughter were homeless and currently staying at a hotel in Walsall, isolated from the support of his family, friends and daughter’s school. He is still there!
Birmingham and Britain is in the grip of the deepest housing crisis in a generation. Nationally, home ownership has hit a 30 year low, homelessness is soaring and rough sleeping on our streets has doubled since 2010. We all know someone who cannot buy the home they need. Home ownership is falling for the first time since the 1950s and the young are increasingly locked out of realising their dream to buy their own home. And for those who cannot afford to buy, the Government funded just 1,100 socially rented homes nationwide in 2016-2017. We urgently need action by Government to tackle what is a growing crisis.
Even in tough times Labour in Birmingham has sought to build the homes our city desperately needs. The Birmingham Municipal Housing Trust (BMHT), the Council’s house building arm, is one of the city’s finest achievements in recent years. The Trust is the biggest housing provider in the city, delivering 30% of all new homes. It continues to hit its 500 new homes a year target and built its 2000th new home in 2016. Over half of these homes are for social or affordable rent ensuring the less well-off and vulnerable in our city have a chance to have a roof over their head. The rest are affordable homes to buy in mixed communities like the Abbeyfield estate in my constituency.
Labour in Birmingham is also determined to fix the private-rented sector by introducing a licensing scheme for landlords. As the homelessness charity Shelter argues, the building of new homes will take time so the private-rented sector has a crucial role to play in ending the crisis. It is important we continue to support good landlords that provide quality homes. However, with the ending of private sector tenancies responsible for three quarters of the cases of homelessness in England, we must be tougher on bad landlords who all too often let sub-standard and unsafe properties to desperate tenants too scared to complain for fear of eviction. One young man in Stockland Green recently told me, ‘the house is in an appalling state, but if we complain we will be kicked out’.
In this bleak scenario local community associations do fantastic work to provide homes for Brummies. The Witton Lodge Community Association (WLCA) was set up by residents in 1994 in response to the demolition of 900 sub-standard homes in Perry Common. Since then the Association has steered the regeneration of Perry Common to develop 912 homes and now own and manage 187 affordable homes. On top of this they run the thriving Perry Common Community Hall that hosts numerous community events, a successful jobs and skills programme that has helped 500 people in the last year alone into work and an independent living hub that supports 300 older residents to tackle loneliness and isolation in the community.
Castle Vale Community Housing (CVCH) has also done fantastic work, managing over a thousand homes in the regeneration of a proud community. Both are shining examples of the homes and sense of community that we can build in Birmingham.
It is clear that Birmingham is working hard to make a real difference. However, the increasingly awful housing difficulties that many Brummies face are part of a national crisis that require a national response. The Council’s Municipal Housing Trust, Witton Lodge and Castle Vale are proud achievements of the city and show Birmingham is pulling its weight. That is all the more important when the Government is lagging far behind and seems incapable of delivering the good quality homes that this great city needs.