Tory council has created housing crisis, says report
Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Local Government and also in Housing
Homes for Islington seizes properties from anti-social tenants
A Tory council's "coordinated policies to cut affordable homes" has created a housing crisis, a new study has claimed.
The report says that by selling council homes on the open market, emptying and demolishing blocks of affordable housing, and allowing developers to make excess profits by including no low-cost homes in major schemes, Hammersmith and Fulham Council has fuelled a housing shortage in the borough.
The report, prepared for Hammersmith MP Andy Slaughter by housing expert Martin Peach, also accuses the local authority of manipulating statistics to hide housing need and classing households on incomes of £80,000 as a priority for rehousing.
Mr Peach found that:
• The council sold 262 empty council properties up to the end on 2013 raising £112 million or an average of £430,000 - homes that would formerly have been let to families in overcrowded accommodation or on the housing waiting list.
• The council has entered a 15-year joint venture with a private developer, Stanhope plc, to empty and demolish blocks of council flats. The land will then be developed for private housing. 150 flats will be lost in the first phase.
• The housing waiting list has effectively been abolished by imposing highly restrictive criteria from 1 April 2013. Before that date over 10,000 households were waiting for accommodation but this fell to just 768.
• Only 16% of over 16,000 properties granted planning consent in the borough in the last five years are classed as affordable against a target of 40%. But even these are unaffordable to residents on moderate income; there has been a net loss of social rented homes.
• Incomes required for the types of property the council deems affordable start at around £50,000 but could be up to £100,000 even for a 60% or 80% share. Two thirds of current council tenants in London have incomes below £20,000.
Mr Peach estimates that on two smaller schemes - where the usually secret viability assessments are public - developers have made windfall profits of £7m and £25m, and with no requirement for affordable homes, profits on the larger schemes may run into hundreds of millions.
Andy Slaughter MP said: "Hammersmith would be short of affordable homes even without these policies. Average house prices are approaching £700,000 and it costs around £700 a week to rent a three-bedroomed property. Local people were already waiting an average of 5-7 years for family sized council homes, often while living in appalling conditions.
"What sort of people react to this situation by setting out to make things worse? The actions of H&F council may well be illegal under equalities legislation.
"They are selling off exactly the type of property most needed by disabled people and vulnerable families.. Their own lawyers have raised concerns that sales policies of this kind echo those of Shirley Porter’s Westminster, which led to both politicians and officers being surcharged for gerrymandering.
"This is not good economics or social policy. The bill for emergency housing rose from £387,000 to £1,751,000 in three years. The additional costs in housing benefit of housing families in bed and breakfast hotels or private flats instead of council homes will run into millions. In 2012, 600 households were forced out of the borough, away from jobs, schools and family support.
"These policies are indefensible politically, economically or in human terms, but far from intervening, the secretary of state singles out H&F for praise. Clearly these are policies the government would like to see pursued nationwide."
Responding to the report, cllr Andrew Johnson, the council's cabinet member for housing, said: “The report produced by Mr Peach on behalf of the Labour MP for Hammersmith is flimsy and in many cases unsubstantiated and is clearly written as a political attack peice, not an objective assessment of our record on housing policy.
"Like all responsible social landlords Hammersmith & Fulham operates an effective asset management strategy, which includes the disposal of a limited number of expensive void properties. We need to do this in order to fund our major works programme through capital receipts, pay down HRA debt and fund the delivery of new affordable homes to buy and rent. Currently our HRA income is not sufficient to cover our capital programme and if no voids were sold we would either have to double rents or cut tens of millions of pounds of investment in our stock.
"We’ve entered into an innovative long-term joint venture with Stanhope to provide new additional homes on council land, with two sites already vacant having previously been decanted prior to even considering this venture due to needing significant investment. Our proposals will virtually double the density and provide 40% affordable housing. In any longer-term redevelopment of other sites we will ensure that there is no net loss of social housing and current council tenants would remain so in any new replacement homes.
"Our reforms to our scheme of allocation was robustly consulted upon prior to implementation and was deemed to be legally sound. We’ve reformed our list to ensure only those in genuine housing need gain access to a council house and already we have seen waiting times for those on the new list fall significantly. On temporary accommodation we are still able to house the majority within the Borough, and unlike many other boroughs we have no families in B&B for longer than six weeks.
"Having the third highest UK house prices is clearly challenging, but we are committed to expanding supply of new homes all tenures, including building on our own land, and our regeneration area will deliver tens of thousands of new homes over the next decade.
"The attacks by Andrew Slaughter MP are nothing more than cheap political posturing weeks away from the local elections. They are clearly aimed at helping his Labour colleagues on the council who have no vision or plan for how they would deliver new homes in H&F and ensure fairness in how council homes are funded or allocated.”