Public meeting to address Manchester's Housing crisis

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Two groups campaigning for greater social justice within Greater Manchester (GM) have combined forces to give the citizens of GM a chance to have their say on the housing crisis and what should be done to tackle it.
GM Housing Action (GMHA) and the People’s Plan GM (PPGM) are holding a public meeting, Thursday 24 November, 7pm till 9pm, at the Methodist Central Hall on Oldham Street in Manchester, to discuss the issues of housing and homelessness. What is decided during the meeting will go towards forming policy demands to address the housing crisis in GM.

The policy demands for housing will join others compiled by PPGM around the environment, economy and local democracy. The completed plan, created by the people of GM for the people of GM, will be presented to the candidates for GM mayor, ahead of the mayoral election next May.

Thursday’s public meeting will address key topics in housing, including: regulation of the private rented sector, provision of social housing, homelessness and alternative models of housing such as co-operatives and co-housing.

This grassroots response to the ever-worsening housing crisis is a direct result of the failure of current national and local government to tackle the issue. The Lyons Housing Commission has recently reported that public concern for housing is now at its highest in over 40 years. It goes on to predict that despite numerous recent initiatives, the UK “will fall far short of the target” of building the 200,000 homes per year needed to alleviate the crisis.

GMHA formed in order to campaign for positive change in the housing and homelessness situation in GM. A spokesperson said:

“It is clear that the current housing settlement in Greater Manchester is not working. Rising homelessness is visible to anybody walking our streets; provision of affordable social renting is at an all time low; and the private rented sector is rife with overcrowding and abusive landlords.

“GMHA believes that devolution presents a historic opportunity to counter this trend, develop alternative housing solutions and create a city-region where no-one is homeless and all residents can live in a safe, affordable home.”

The Conservatives, self-professed party of home ownership, has presided over a sharp drop in ownership during its time in office. In GM, home ownership has dropped from 72% in 2003 to 58% this year. In the same period, the private rented sector has swelled dramatically, from 6% to 20%. Accompanying this rise are the associated problems of insecure tenancies, rising rents (exacerbated by stagnant wages), cuts to housing benefits, fuel poverty and poor housing conditions affecting health.

Joe Taylor is an organiser with 38 Degrees Manchester who has played a key part in getting the People’s Plan underway. While living in Australia he successfully campaigned to protect tenants’ rights, preventing rent increases through mass rent strikes, and heading off many evictions. It is the absence of equivalent legal protection that most concerns him in the UK:

“If tenants in the private rented sector had access to a tribunal where malpractice could be legally addressed, as in the New South Wales Residential Tenancies Act,” said Taylor, “that would be a massive step forward.”

The Salford Star has documented the different facets of the housing crisis in Salford, which have been neglected by other news outlets. Its extensive reporting of private developers avoiding their obligations to build social housing has recently led to a change in council policy in the borough, with promises of much tougher enforcement. Editor Stephen Kingston is one of the experts who will be sharing his extensive knowledge of housing issues at the meeting.

Residents, community groups and professionals from different sectors will assemble on Thursday to pool ideas for a better regional housing strategy post-devolution. All are welcome to come and hear, discuss and contribute.