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Housing shortage and rent decontrol

Housing shortages and the Conservatives

By 1953, in an attempt to remedy the acute housing shortage after the Second World War, 300,000 new homes had been built each year. The Conservatives now decided to focus on private sector provision. Harold Macmillan, as Minister of Housing and Local Government, was responsible for the building programme. To boost owner-occupation, council housing was sold, and the proportion of licences local authorities awarded for private building was increased. Under the 1952 Housing Act local authorities were allowed to sell council houses, and the value of buildings without a licence increased. By 1953, however, only 20 per cent of contributions of total homes were from the private sector.

Macmillan proposed increasing owner-occupancy by reducing the subsidy for local authority housing and cancelling rent controls in the private sector. Macmillan argued that private rents should increase to encourage landlords to make improvements. Rent increases would be linked to the revaluation of property to decide a so-called 'fair' rent. The government subsidised the temporary repair of dilapidated or condemned buildings in the private sector under Operation Rescue.

Rent decontrol

The proposals were incorporated into a White Paper in 1953 and then, later, into the 1954 Housing Rent and Repair Act. The 1956 Housing Subsidy Act encouraged building in the private sector by reducing the subsidy for council housing. In the same year, the Cabinet considered decontrolling rents to make renting more attractive to private landlords. In the midst of controversy surrounding the likelihood of tenant exploitation, Cabinet decided in favour of the Rent Act of 1957. Opposition to rent decontrol later forced the government to act and it made the eviction of tenants more difficult.