Politicians have thrown out the former Housing Minister's bid to declare a housing affordability crisis, narrowly rejecting proposals that would have seen social housing rents reduced from 90% to up to 80% of the market rate after a debate.
The States Assembly was split on the proposal brought forward by Senator Sam Mézec, the former Housing Minister, with 21 votes ‘pour’ and 24 ‘contre’.
His plan also included making all tenancies open-ended, banning rent increases above the inflation rate, and setting up a Rent Tribunal - all of which the Senator said were based on the recommendations from the Housing Policy Development Board.
Pictured: The proposals were brought forward by Senator Sam Mézec.
Opening the debate on his plans yesterday, Senator Mézec said he wanted the Government to give an indication of whether or not they accepted the “comprehensive” work of the board or wanted to “rip it up” as the situation worsens.
He described the recent 'housing action plan' from the Housing Minister, Deputy Russell Labey as underwhelming, saying it only proposed “delay and prevarication” and not enough action.
Senator Mézec said his proposal didn’t inhibit the work of the Minister but simply clarified the work he was going to do. Given this, he said that it didn't make sense for Deputy Labey and the rest of the Council of Ministers to be calling for the proposals to be voted down.
With Ministers united in opposing the proposition and 18 members having declared an interest as a landlord, as well as Deputy Judy Martin having declared one as an Andium Homes tenant, the Assembly was split over the various proposals and the debate took several hours.
Express analyses the main points that were raised...
Pictured: Deputy Ash said Senator Mézec and his party were "indulging" in electioneering ahead of the elections next year.
Deputy Lindsay Ash was the first to speak in the debate, with the majority of his speech focusing on Senator Mézec’s party, Reform Jersey, which he said had recently “indulged in electioneering on every issue one can think of”.
He described the proposals as “populist”, suggesting they wouldn’t help the people they should or do anything to alleviate poverty, arguing that only a minority of Andium tenants would benefit from lower rents whilst the funding model would be disrupted.
In his summing up, Senator Mézec addressed the comments saying Deputy Ash would be “forgiven” if he made a U-turn on his views, which he said were “odd” given that he had worked on the Housing Policy Development Board, whose work has inspired his proposals.
Later on in the debate, Constable of St. John Andy Jehan said that in his short time in the Assembly he had noticed how “some Members are more concerned about who brings a proposition than the merits of the proposition”.
Pictured: “The problem is simple, people, we have too many of them,” the Constable of St. Mary said.
Several Members seized the opportunity of the debate to call for an immigration policy. As Constable of St. Mary John Le Bailly noted, the housing crisis has been going for many years, explaining there was already one when he started his career as an apprentice carpenter.
“The problem is simple: people, we have too many of them,” he said.
“We need an immigration policy, something that is actually working, otherwise we will keep chasing our tails because everybody who is allowed in is going to require a home,” added the Constable of St. Saviour, Sadie Le Sueur Rennard.
“We have those reviews every 10 years and we are still playing catch up.”
Pictured: Jersey does not have a 'housing crisis' according to Deputy Ash.
According to Deputy Ash, there is no ‘housing crisis’ in Jersey – a housing crisis, he said, is what people in Calcutta, Soweto or the favelas in Brazil. He suggested islanders should stop complaining about “first-world problems” such as a new hospital or the road needed to access it being built.
He however acknowledged that the local “overheated property market” is badly in need of an increase in supply. States Members shouldn’t count on St. Saviour to offer up any land, though, as the Constable made it clear her parish couldn’t take any more homes.
The Constable of St. Ouen, Richard Buchanan, shared the views that more homes are needed, arguing that the current crisis is driven by supply and demand – an issue which he said Deputy Labey’s plan addressed “thoroughly” as he “clearly has a grip on the matter”.
“I don’t think there is any member that does not recognise the desperate need for housing,” Environment Minister Deputy John Young said, adding that he didn’t believe Senator Mézec’s policy would help due to unintended effect which could reduce the supply.
“We need to increase the supply, absolutely imperative, and there’s no question, we have a large private rental sector that we very much depend on, and there’s no question that the law does need to be changed,” he said.
“Only by increasing supply will we drive down the rental levels; the escalation of property values for ordinary three-bedroom homes is embarrassing… How have we allowed it to happen? We’ve allowed it to happen because we’ve relied entirely on the private sector and not enabled supply.”
The Chief Minister, Senator John Le Fondré, said the issue that all States Members had been “grappling with” and that “hopefully, this time, we are cracking it”.
Pictured: “The banks have failed us, absolutely failed us in all sorts of ways,” Deputy Young said.
Both Deputy Montfort Tadier and the Environment Minister agreed that States loans should make a return.
Responding to Deputy Ash’s claims that there is no housing crisis in Jersey, Deputy Tadier said islanders do have genuine problems and are living in relative poverty because of housing.
He said the single biggest issue mentioned on social media was housing and noted that islanders who can afford to rent should be able to afford a mortgage but that banks denied them lending because they do not have any security.
“The banks have failed us, absolutely failed us in all sorts of ways,” Deputy Young said.
Pictured: Deputy Morel described the contract between Andium Homes and the Government as "scandalous".
With half of Senator Mézec's proposals focusing on Andium Homes - specifically the rents they charge and the return they give to Government - it was no surprise that discussion of the social housing provider featured heavily in the debate.
Treasury Minister Deputy Susie Pinel warned that, if adopted, Senator Mézec’s proposals would see the Government lose out £2m a year by 2025 and £3m by 2033. However, she was unable to confirm whether that took into account the fact the Government would be spending less on income support.
While some Members saw no issues with the current arrangement between the Government and Andium Homes, Deputy Kirsten Morel described it as “scandalous”. He detailed how Andium Homes is expected to return just shy of £30m to the Government every year – the equivalent of what the States of Jersey Development Company (SJODC) has paid out in 31 years of existence, which he said was unfair.
“This is staggering,” he said. “The Treasury is entirely responsible for Andium Homes not being able to lower its rent. They are taxing the poorest tenants in Jersey and stopping Andium Homes getting on with the housing development scheme… It’s scandalous that we have allowed this to happen.”
Pictured: The majority of the Assembly was in agreement that action needs to take place now.
The majority of the Assembly was in agreement that action needs to take place now.
In his speech, Deputy Rob Ward described Deputy Labey’s 'housing action plan' as “confused delaying tactics” that would get the Assembly nowhere, and suggested the Government was “unwilling to take action”. He also suggested that maybe it was civil servants calling the shots and telling Ministers, “Actually, you can’t act on this."
“We will fail to take action if we don’t take some action today,” he said.
“There is nothing in this proposition that stops the Minister doing the type of works he wants to do now. All it says from the Assembly is, ‘Yes, please get on with it.' We made a step forward yesterday, we can make a step forward today, and so I urge members to support this proposition.”
Deputy Carina Alves also noted how instead of “the year of action”, Members had received more delaying tactics and reviewing, which they were all “fed up with”.
Deputy Louise Doublet told Members that tackling housing issues would support the most vulnerable people and children, saying that security of homes was “the very least” that should be provided in the island.
“I am annoyed at how long this has taken,” said Deputy Mike Higgins, noting they were already talks of a housing crisis when he first became a States Member 13 years ago. “Over the years, we have blown it,” he added.
Pictured: Deputy Labey said he had no intention to endorse decisions based on what he described as “a political view”.
Deputy Labey, however, said it was premature to ask States Members to take action on housing as not all reviews were concluded. He said he had no intention to endorse decisions based on what he described as “a political view” and preferred to consider all the risks before doing anything.
Concluding the debate shortly before the vote, Senator Mézec said he regretted having delayed his debate, as he thought it was to work with the Minister when in fact it gave him the “opportunity to get ready to oppose."
He said it would be embarrassing for Deputy Labey if his reviews come to the same conclusions as the Housing Policy Development Board, which he had asked the Assembly to reject.
He described his proposition as “well-thought through” and as seeking to build on “what is meant to be the Government’s position already”. “Maybe it does not fit with their way of doing things, but the Assembly is sovereign in this island, not the Government,” he said.
All parts of Senator Mézec’s proposition were rejected, with the vote on cutting social housing rents failing with the narrowest margin.
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