Did you know that right now, there are over 1,200 people on Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council’s waiting list for housing, while the council tax records show that we have over 1,300 unoccupied homes? Everyone has a right to an affordable, safe and secure home - but these figures show there is something wrong with how we think about housing today.
Social housing demand in our community far outstrips supply, and there have been zero social homes for rent built in the borough for the last five years. So, many people are forced to rely on private landlords while rents are fast becoming unaffordable in Tonbridge, and evictions by private landlords are increasing.
For tenants receiving housing benefit, this taxpayer money ends up going straight into the pockets of private landlords. And that is if you are able to secure a tenancy at all - often private landlords simply refuse tenants on housing benefit.
Ironically, another issue making the housing crisis worse is the government’s Help to Buy scheme which provides interest free loans to buy new-build houses. The scheme has enabled big business to make massive profits funded by taxpayer cash - just last week Persimmon reported a £1.09bn profit for 2018, the biggest ever made by a UK housebuilder. Almost half the houses it built last year were bought through Help to Buy, and the company has nearly tripled profits per house since 2013 while house prices have continued to rise.
In Tonbridge we desperately need truly affordable housing - but beware the definition of this term! The government says ‘affordable’ housing is that priced at 20% less than market value. Locally, units recently available through Clarion Housing have been priced at £330,000 for a two bedroom apartment, which is simply out of reach for many people.
Local authorities have some power to demand that developers include a certain amount of ‘affordable’ housing in their plans, but even then developers can avoid this obligation if they can show it would reduce their profits.
Central government funding for local authorities is reducing every year, and smart councils are putting in place financial strategies that secure investment for the future. For Tonbridge and Malling, an obvious place to start would be to build social housing, meeting demand for truly affordable homes while securing a steady rental income stream.
It’s clear we need a long term housing strategy based on evidence, not ideology. We need to get creative to help make sure that no one in our community is left behind.
April Clark, local campaigner, Tonbridge & Malling Green Party
This article first appeared in the Times of Tonbridge 6th March 2019