Cllr Sarah Williams: ‘100 homeless families come to the council on a weekly basis’

Sarah Williams, cabinet member for housing services who represents West Green for Labour, on the homelessness situation in Haringey

Housing in Hillfield Park, Muswell Hill
Homes in Hillfield Park, Muswell Hill

The seriousness of London’s housing and homelessness crisis cannot be overstated.

Across London, approximately one in 50 people are without a permanent home and living in temporary accommodation. That figure includes 83,500 children – meaning on average at least one child in every London
classroom is homeless.

This London-wide crisis is being felt acutely in Haringey, where 100 homeless families come to the council on a weekly basis. Most of these people are private renters who were subject to a no-fault eviction or have been priced out of their rental homes by skyrocketing rents. To those who present to us as homeless the council offers what’s known as temporary accommodation – this could be anything from private accommodation or social housing to a hotel or bed and breakfast.

Temporary accommodation is intended as a short-term solution to homelessness, keeping people housed for up to six weeks while a more long-term solution is found. Last year, the number of London families who exceeded that six-week limit rose by 782%, and some Haringey families who need larger homes can expect to stay in temporary accommodation for over a decade.

Now, not only is longer-term accommodation in short supply, but the number of landlords quitting London’s temporary accommodation sector has risen by 140% – meaning that homeless families are being evicted from
emergency accommodation to be replaced by private tenants. The government’s long-term freeze on social rents means that Haringey hasn’t had the funds to invest in our existing housing, nor have we been allowed to borrow
money to improve and grow our housing and temporary accommodation stock.

Haringey is proud to have one of the most effective homelessness prevention teams in London – elsewhere in the
capital the situation is even more dire. We proactively try to keep people in their rented homes by negotiating with
landlords, offering deposit funds, and assisting landlords in meeting safety standards for their buildings. But our interventions are not enough to fix our broken housing system.

Haringey is building 3,000 more genuinely affordable homes by 2031, but there will always be a need for a fair and
fit-for-purpose rented sector. The government needs to take three bold policy changes: professionalise the landlord industry, make private renting affordable, and end ‘right to buy’.

Being a landlord is a serious responsibility, not a way to make a passive second income. We need the government
to introduce laws that professionalise the landlord industry, and in doing so support the work of our good landlords and give councils the powers to crack down on poor landlords.

Since 2010, average rents have risen three times as fast as average incomes, and the rise in the cost of fuel and energy bills is hitting renters in energy-inefficient homes the hardest. The mayor of London has rightly called for ministers to allow him to freeze private rents in London, which will help prevent evictions and provide security for renters. Introduced by Margaret Thatcher, the ‘right to buy’ scheme has fuelled a longterm social housing crisis. Since it was introduced, more than 300,000 London council homes have been sold, many of which have not been replaced. The number of new affordable homes constructed annually cannot keep pace with the volume already sold.

In Haringey, a massive 5,000 out of 20,000 council properties have been sold to leaseholders under this scheme
– and councils don’t even get all the money from this sale. A large proportion of right to buy homes are now in the
hands of private landlords: in 2017, 40% of them were being rented out and their tenants were paying more than twice the rent charged by local authorities. Scotland and Wales abandoned this policy several years ago, and it’s time for England to follow suit.

Housing is a human right and the crisis within London’s housing and temporary accommodation sectors demands
immediate attention. But temporary accommodation is a symptom of the housing crisis, not a solution to it. We need a government that will do something that successive governments have failed to do – give local authorities the power to provide the good quality, affordable and stable housing Londoners need.

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