We will work to reduce homelessness, and will look at bringing disused spaces back into use. We will work with tenants to ensure housing is affordable and improve the current housing stock in terms of environment and damp. The bedroom tax is unfair, and we will ensure that evictions are not based on this unjust law. We will also invest in new social housing to combat the negative effects of the right to buy scheme which fails to replenish social housing stock. The Greens are committed to maintaining and improving the existing council stock, whilst also seeking sustainable opportunities for this to be increased.
Our vision is for a Southampton where there is a range of housing provision that can cater for the diverse housing needs of the people. At present, homelessness remains a pervasive problem in our society, and waiting lists for council houses (57 years) remain far too long. Alongside this, many people live in homes with insecure tenancies, or which suffer from being damp or cold. We will seek to improve the environmental performance of both existing housing stock and new developments, and to increase the total housing stock by bringing empty buildings back into use.
We are firmly committed to fighting the bedroom tax and will follow the example set by The Brighton & Hove Green Party, which has refrained from evicting anyone who can prove that they are genuinely unable to pay. We believe that investment in council housing brings economic benefits, as people in secure accommodation are more likely to be more productive at work, and better able to spend money in the local economy. We believe that tenants should be more involved with the managing their homes and we seek to achieve this by holding open consultations on housing budgets and setting up tenancy panels with the power to look into any aspect of council housing management.
We will seek to bring the energy performance of all council accommodation up to the highest standards possible through the fitting of wall and roof insulation, and the most energy efficient heating and lighting. Where possible, we will utilise Government schemes whereby the cost is paid for by the energy companies.
The council housing stock will be replenished by bringing disused buildings back into use. We will commission feasibility studies to judge whether empty office blocks and disused commercial outlets in the Bargate and East Street shopping centres could be converted into housing. We will use compulsory purchasing powers to buy houses that have been empty for more than 6 months, funded by the rents of their new tenants.
The council housing stock will also be increased through the construction of new homes. We will push for the highest environmental and architectural standards to be applied to new homes. We will also encourage developers to include environmental features, such as solar panels, rainwater harvesting, and space for growing food and foodbearing plants such as fruit trees to help reduce costs for tenants and make new housing more environmentally sustainable.
We will focus on building in derelict brownfield sites within Southampton and oppose construction on open green spaces within the city and between Southampton and its neighbouring towns and villages.
Privately-rented accommodation is an important part of the housing mix in Southampton. However, whilst some landlords are exemplary, others routinely fail to meet their legal duties to their tenants, and some charge excessively high rents. Whilst we have limited powers in respect of privately rented accommodation, we will use our influence to encourage good practice in the sector with improved guidelines.
We will maintain a register of good landlords, which can be viewed by members of the public on request. Inclusion in the register will be conditional on meeting criteria on rent levels and maintenance of the properties. This will provide potential tenants with an alternative option to using commercial letting agents, who often charge very high fees, whilst also providing an incentive for good practice by landlords.
Many people, especially students, are not familiar with which rights and responsibilities they have as tenants. We will set up an information and advice service for private sector tenants, to inform them of their rights and responsibilities as tenants, and to assist them in taking action when their rights are not being met. We will work alongside both universities in Southampton to identify and resolve persistent issues with private sector student accommodation.