Housing – councils have the powers to tackle the housing crisis

by Jack Jeffrey

Jack is secretary of Unite the union housing workers branch and TUSC candidate on the London-wide list for the Greater London Assembly.


Key workers cannot afford to buy an average-priced home in over 98% of the UK. Although many people from my generation have now reconciled themselves to never owning a home, we are also increasingly being priced out of renting one.

Despite the economic impact of Covid, rents still rose by 1.3% in the 12 months to January 2021. This is the reason why private rental sector eviction has become the main cause of homelessness since 2012, overtaking relationship breakdown.

I work for a homeless service in Westminster and am the branch secretary of the Unite Housing Workers branch, and I see the effects of this every day. Whether it is clients at work becoming homeless through poverty, reports of housing associations moving away from social to private housing, or increasing number of members accessing our hardship fund because they cannot pay the rent – it is clear that the UK is in a housing crisis.

The ‘Everybody in’ scheme launched at the beginning of the pandemic proved that it doesn’t have to be this way. The scheme offered many of my clients the chance to engage with physical and mental health services, tackle substance abuse, and start to practice self-care. Who would have thought that the answer to homelessness would be so simple as to give everyone a home!

However, now with hotels due to resume usual business in April, and clients being rushed into unsuitable accommodation, it feels like we are throwing all the progress away. What is stopping local authorities continuing to house the homeless?

I have no faith in Labour to offer a path out of the housing crisis. I am fed up of hearing different reasons why Sadiq Khan has never managed to meet his self-imposed target of building 50% of new developments as social housing. I will never forgive Keir Starmer for scrapping Corbyn’s policy of forgiving rent arrears accrued during Covid as soon as he came to power.

No faith in Labour

This is why in the upcoming elections I will be standing for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition. It is clear the main parties will do nothing to solve the housing crisis in the UK. But by electing local representatives that are clearly anti-austerity and prepared to fight for their residents, we can make a difference. When Liverpool City Council refused to implement Tory austerity in the 1980s, the city built 5,000 new homes in three years from 1984-87. In stark contrast, this government’s much recycled pledge to end homelessness involves creating only 6,000 new bed spaces across the entire country over a four-year period.

Local authorities have the powers, land and ability to take decisive steps to address the housing crisis. Despite years of attacks they still manage around 1 million homes, although only a small proportion are council homes. Democratically controlled, they also have the land required to build the 340,000 homes a year the National Housing Federation estimates we need.

Local authorities in England alone own around 1.3 million acres of land. For perspective, London is a city of around 9 million and takes up around 390,000 acres. They also have the power to requisition some of the UK’s 500,000 homes currently sitting empty, and to convert some of the hotels now being used into permanent supported accommodation.

Housing should be a human right not a privilege, we need councillors prepared to put forward a bold socialist programme and use all the powers at their disposal so we can begin to address the housing crisis in England and Wales.