Monday 26 April 2021

Wales Needs Rent Control and Council Housing

John Williams

The Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) is standing in all five regions in Wales, meaning that every voter will have the chance to back anti-austerity socialist campaigning candidates.

Across Britain there are over 300 TUSC candidates standing in the local elections in England and parliamentary elections in Scotland and Wales in this first year that TUSC has resumed activity since Jeremy Corbyn was removed as Labour leader.

Candidates in Wales include Black Lives Matter activists like Cammilla Mngaza and Melanie Benedict, leading Welsh trade unionists like Mark Evans and Mariam Kamish and leaders of student rent strike campaigns like Oisín Mulholland and Michelle Francis.

TUSC supporters welcome the development of community organisations, such as Acorn, that fight for tenants' and workers' rights. Describing itself as a 'community-based union', Acorn's demands include a 'renter's manifesto' that TUSC members fully endorse.

TUSC Wales agreed on the 14th February this year its core policies for the Senedd elections. These include calling on the Welsh government to introduce:

  • A complete ban on no-fault evictions
  • Rent control to cut rents, overseen by tribunals of tenants’ representatives and trade unionists.
  • A mass building programme of eco-friendly affordable council homes to tackle the housing crisis, controlled by working-class communities to prevent overcrowding and ensure the provision of all necessary services including green spaces.

Solutions for the housing crisis

TUSC is standing because none of the mainstream parties are willing to even scratch the surface of what’s needed to solve the housing crisis or the other problems ordinary people are facing. There needs to be a radical shift in the balance of power from those who are exploiting housing as a means of making profits to those who use housing as somewhere to live. We need rent control now, for the public and private sector - for too long rents have skyrocketed for working class people and students.

Rent tribunals need to be brought back, where a tenant could bring their landlord to account if their rent is too high, and they should be run not by the establishment but by people who understand the struggles of ordinary people.

We need real security of tenancy, starting with a ban on no-fault evictions. Welsh Labour’s pre-election promise to extend the tenancy period is not enough - it will mean at most a delay in revenge eviction by landlords who want to punish tenants who stand up for their rights. Revenge eviction should be abolished: no one should have the power to make you homeless.

Even before the economic damage of the pandemic, it’s estimated that 4000 people were homeless in Cardiff. Many more are vulnerably housed and the majority face unaffordable housing and living costs. Action during the pandemic wiped out homelessness for a period - demonstrating that it is possible to do so. But in normal times thousands of homes lie empty - landbank by speculators - and powers to compulsorily purchase homes lie unused by bodies like Cardiff Council because the mainstream parties which have run the city have not been willing to stand with tenants against the landlords and letting agents.

We need to increase the supply of housing in cities like Cardiff and we need a regional plan drawn up for homes, jobs and transport to distribute resources in the most efficient way. A mass programme of council-house building, reversing the changes brought in by Margaret Thatcher which have boosted landlordism not private ownership.

We welcome creative proposals like those advanced by Acorn to give public bodies “first refusal” on sales of homes as a means of increasing public housing. We have similar demands ourselves, including shortly after the crash of 2007/8 when we managed to get an independent socialist Assembly Member to raise a proposal in the Senedd to permit struggling homeowners to exchange unaffordable mortgage payments for affordable council rents, transferring the asset.

Failed by the other parties

The failure of Labour, Plaid Cymru, Liberal and Green-run councils to fight the cuts demanded by the Tories in Westminster has also assisted unscrupulous landlords to shirk their responsibilities to tenants. The law protected tenants’right is inadequate, but even if it were perfect the inadequacy of the current resources devoted to its enforcement would mean that tenants would be left unprotected. In Cardiff, a city of a third of a million people, Cardiff Council has just 6 enforcement officers to respond to reports of health and safety breaches in housing, and are discussing further “efficiencies” which could made to this team by sharing services across other authorities.

TUSC says no more cuts. We need representatives who will fight to save jobs and for the funding necessary for the services we need.

Domestic abuse deaths doubled during pandemic, after demand for services doubled over the decade but funding for refuges has been cut in real terms in Cardiff when they should have been expanded to meet the needs of all, including the LGBTQ+ community, some of whom are fleeing homophobic and transphobic homes, or have been forced to go into the closet since the pandemic. TUSC candidates are unique in having pledged to defy demands for cuts and to support legal needs-based budgets to provide the services for all who need them.

Similarly, the Welsh Labour government has proven conclusively that it will not act decisively to tackle the housing crisis. Just as they have done this year, before the last Senedd elections Welsh promised to solve the housing crisis with new laws like the Renting Homes (Wales) Act and Housing (Wales) Act.

At the time, TUSC supporters organised a March for Homes and set up Housing Action Committees to organise and demand the bold measures necessary to meet this basic need. We won a pledge to scrap upfront agency fees but the key demands for rent control and to increase the housing supply through an expansion of council housing was ignored.

Even the positive (although inadequate) measures like landlord registration and training were chronically delayed once the election was over. In the meantime the most unscrupulous landlords and letting agents have tightened their grip on the rental market. The scrapping of upfront agency fees have proved worthless because Welsh Labour was not willing to bolster it with rent control, so landlords merely tacked the extra charges onto rent.

TUSC is different

TUSC was founded by campaigners who concluded that anyone who has had the experience of campaigning against cuts to services, to save jobs, to fight for housing right or for justice for ordinary people would do a better jobs than the representatives of parties who are entirely in hock to big business or won’t stand up to them. We need a new party, controlled and run democratically by ordinary working-class and committed to fighting for a socialist society run by the millions not the millionaires.

My own testimony

“I’ve had too much experience of the housing experience in cardiff, since I moved here in 2014 for university. I’ve had to move house at least every 9 months- I’ve rented with every housing agency that’s going, and I can tell you most of them are cowboys, vultures and bullies.

“On the day we were meant to move into a house in Grangetown, to our surprise the previous tenants were still living there. With no sign at all that they were planning on moving out. We rang up the agency to find out what was going on who told us that it was our responsibility to kick out the previous people living there! 

“After much arguing, the agency then conceded, and soon after a white van came along, which the previous tenants quickly gathering essentials and all 10 of them left. The house was exactly as they left it. It was only the morning after that the agency got cleaners around to make the house liveable. It became clear to us that the agency was illegally allowing 10 migrant workers live in a house meant for 4. Who knows what was really going on. What would have happened if the police got involved?

“I moved into the house I’m living at now last September- but it was only 2 months or so that the house met legal requirements. We had an open man hole, a leaking downstairs toilet, the upstairs shower leaked into downstairs, a part of the ceiling collapsed, none of the doors met health and safety fire requirements, and a whole lot more. What was staggering is that every time we made a fuss to get it sorted, they made us feel like we were being picky and annoying, and that we had ‘to work with them’ to find a compromise. Most housing agencies feel like they can get away with anything.”

Promoted by Dave Warren, TUSC Wales secretary, on behalf of TUSC Wales, 29 Tir Y Farchnad, Gowerton SA4 3GS

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