Building the way for affordable homes

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Croydon houses. Photo: Joanna Lowry

Hackney and Croydon councils may be given more powers to build affordable homes to meet housing needs.

The boroughs have been selected, along with Westminster, to take part in a year-long pilot scheme to find ways of giving councils greater control and flexibility over housing decisions.

The scheme has been set up by the London Board of the Homes and Communities Agency, chaired by London Mayor, Boris Johnson. During the pilot the boroughs will work alongside the Mayor’s housing advisor, other agencies and housing associations.

In return for greater flexibility in making local housing decisions, the borough councils will make commitments to provide ‘affordable housing’.

The HCA says affordable housing can be low rent homes managed by councils or housing associations or homes built for affordable sale.

Hackney and Croydon were chosen for the pilot scheme because they represent some of the various housing problems faced across London.

There are currently 5,000 families on the council house waiting list in Croydon, the council recently committed to building 100 new homes per year.

Hackney council last week launched a public consultation on its latest housing strategy. The report says that there are more than 17,000 households in unsuitable housing across the borough and nearly 2,000 homeless. Unsuitable housing includes overcrowded homes; in Hackney almost 10 per cent of households are overcrowded, compared to 2.5 per cent nationally. The council says it needs to build an extra 4,626 affordable houses per year to meet demand.

Steve Douglas, Hackney Council’s director for neighbourhoods and regeneration, said: “Hackney is among the top-performing London boroughs for affordable housing provision, with 800 new homes delivered last year. We welcome this opportunity to participate in a pilot which should allow greater local flexibility, as local authorities are ideally positioned to take the lead in working with partners for new housing.”

Green Hackney councillor Mischa Borris cautiously welcomed plans to build more homes. She said:

“We welcome any increased provision of social housing, especially provided by local authorities, and will await with interest the further details of the project as they emerge. But this pilot must work in the best interests of existing and future tenants. For example, we would not support any privatisation of the housing service or stock transfer, and any “affordable” housing should be truly affordable.”

Eileen Short, chair of the tenants’ campaign group Defend Council Housing, warned that the scheme may not provide homes for those who need them:

“Tenants would welcome help for local authorities to build more council housing in the face of growing waiting lists and repossessions. But “affordable” housing is too often not affordable. We don’t need more expensive shared-ownership or intermediate rents, in one and two bed flats not built for families. To meet local need means putting money into improving existing and building new council housing – not pouring more public money and land into subsidies for failing private developments.”

Housing charity Shelter said this week that London has the longest social housing waiting lists in the UK. They said it would take 51 per cent of boroughs more than 10 years to house everybody on their list. A Shelter spokesperson said:

“London has the most acute levels of housing need in the country, with over 353,000 households on waiting lists and more than 330,000 children living in overcrowded accommodation. Any initiative which seeks to increase the delivery of affordable homes in the capital is extremely welcome in helping to ensure that future generations of Londoners have a decent and affordable place to live.’

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