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Birmingham Tenants & Homeless Action Group - What we are doing

Birmingham Tenants & Homeless Action Group | 27.08.2012 16:15 | Free Spaces | Public sector cuts | Social Struggles | Birmingham

Birmingham faces a protracted housing crisis. A failing construction industry, recession, the depletion of the council housing stock, austerity and cuts to housing benefits are blighting lives across the city. City planners estimate Birmingham is currently short of 11,000[1] affordable homes but this is set to rise to 70,000 short by 2026[2]. We have taken over this abandoned council owned house which we wish to become the first of a new stock of homes in Birmingham. We plan on making this property liveable and handing it on to a homeless victim of the governments and councils uncaring incompetence. We will then defend this property and its resident; we will take the council to court if they apply for an eviction. In court we will demand that the council take over operation of the house, add it to their council housing stock and allow its resident to stay. If this fails we will peacefully resist any bailiffs should they be sent to evict the resident. The scale of the crisis The housing crisis hitting Birmingham is twofold.

Firstly there is the crisis that is already upon us, visible across the city. Birmingham has the highest rate of homelessness in the country, and the surrounding west Midlands area has the highest rate of any region outside London[3]. Homeless charities in Birmingham have been hit hard and a recent study discovered that homelessness in Birmingham has increased by 25% since 2009. A direct correlation with the 29% cut on the modest spending on homelessness from £7.8m to £5.5m[4]. Those visibly homeless on the streets of Birmingham are merely the tip of the iceberg. The institute of housing reported in January that over 11,000 families in Birmingham are at risk of being unable to afford their homes once housing benefit cuts started to bite. Furthermore in July this year the government declared that many of Birmingham’s families would lose around 20% of their council tax relief. This will add between £200-£500 pounds to many household expenses[5]

Secondly, if the city is going to able to deal with projected population growth the city will need 70,000 new homes by 2026[2]. However, due to the collapse of the construction industry and investors morbidly afraid of another collapse in the housing market, housing construction is at the lowest rate in decades.

Council’s vague plans- “something, something, private sector, something” The Labour Party, currently in power in Birmingham, recognise this crisis and promise to “deal with it”…. But it’s not clear exactly how they plan to do this (Labour Party Local Election Manifesto, PDF, page 13)[2]. Their vague three point plan seems to include references to working with the “private sector”, perhaps more discredited private finance initiatives or selling off council owned
land at knock down prices to the private sector in the hope they might do something with it. Labour’s vague three point plan includes:-

Labour Council will establish new Birmingham housing partnerships with partners in the housing association, private and public sectors to ensure that much of the council’s own land-bank is used for housing-led regeneration, building homes to buy and rent
Labour’s new housing partnerships will have a more dynamic and strategic role than existing city housing partnerships
We will require a radical and innovative approach, including working with private developers to build social housing for rent, as well as helping people to buy, including
initiatives like shared equity schemes

What needs to be done

The scale of the problem is huge it will take serious and concerted action and investment to meet housing needs. Relying on the private sector is not a “radical and innovative” plan of action. The private sector is shrinking and investors are nervous especially about the housing market. Only serious investment by the government could produce confidence in the private sector. Further than that the government, are the only viable sources of money for long term investment of this scale as they can borrow at far lower rates than the private sector. The government can borrow at about 0.5%[6] almost nothing and considering on average a Birmingham council house makes £4107 in profit per annum for the council. Loans to fund new houses be that new builds or bringing empty houses back into use could turn a serious profit to invest in other badly needed services.

There are over 11,000 empty homes in Birmingham 2.8% of the entire property stock and even more abandoned land. The council has the power to seize abandoned houses and put them back into use as low cost social housing. The problem is large but not insurmountable. The council and the state are equipped with the powers and resources, they are simply
unwilling to take action. We are not helpless, we know our areas well. Why bide
our time waiting for oversubscribed council homes? Abandoned properties going to waste should be seized by communities and put back to use. This is property one, we are putting it back to use and we will fight for it to be kept in use. If you are homeless, in a hostel or stuck on a friends couch join us. We will help you seize property two, three and four and we will defend it together with you.


2. (page 16 - housing)





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