A recent report by the National Housing Federation revealed that house prices in Harrogate have risen by 65% over the past decade. The average house price in Harrogate is £264,574 which is 12.5 times the average income (£21,225). The increasing cost of the private rented sector is also having a huge impact, with 50% of new households in Harrogate unable to afford to rent or buy in the district.

In response to this crisis, Harrogate Council have decided to spend £155,745 on a pilot “shared ownership scheme” which would fund only 8 homes for first-time buyers! Paul Viney, Trade Unionist & Socialist Coalition (TUSC) candidate for the High Harrogate ward, had a letter published in the Harrogate Advertiser (1st May) under the heading “More council housing needed”.

The letter highlights the inadequacy of the council’s response and calls for rent controls and a programme of council house building in Harrogate.

More council housing needed

Dear Sir/Madam,

I would like to add to the Advertiser’s debate concerning the housing crisis in Harrogate. The report by the National Housing Federation (Shared ownership to help ‘generation rent’, April 17th) provided an insight into the true extent of Harrogate’s housing crisis. 50% of new households in Harrogate cannot afford to rent or buy in the district and a generation of young people are faced with spiraling rents, while being unable to get on the housing ladder. However, the council‘s proposed pilot “shared ownership scheme” would fund only eight homes for first-time buyers! This scheme is wholly inadequate and fails to tackle the root of the problem, namely the high rents and deregulation in the private rented sector and the lack of council housing.

Since the scrapping of rent controls by the Tory government (and failure to re-introduce regulation by successive Labour governments) private rents have rocketed. The average monthly rental costs in Britain are set to rise above £1000 this year. A cap on rents in the private sector, bringing them into line with council rents, would be an obvious way of ensuring that all rents were affordable.

One consequence of the deregulation of rents is the use of housing benefit as a subsidy for private landlords. When rents were deregulated in 1989 the then Tory housing minister Sir George Young, told parliament that rents would increase but housing benefit would “take the strain” and “underpin market rents”. This policy has provided an enormous subsidy to private landlords and helped to drive rising house prices.

The real solution to a lack of affordable housing is not a “shared ownership scheme” but more council housing. Council house building has all but ceased since the 1980’s and private construction has not filled the gap. However, councils can use their reserves and prudential borrowing powers to build and renovate council houses now, while campaigning for the government to divert its private developer subsidies to a mass programme of building quality council houses.

Paul Viney,
Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition
Candidate for High Harrogate