Next steps for housing in London & the South East: affordability, meeting demand and the future for social housing

On the 13th September the NECG group facilitator and an expert by experience from ESURG (Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham’s expert group) attended the Policy Forum for London’s event on housing. The event covered the following topics:

  • Key issues for implementing the Mayor’s housing strategy
  • Assessing priorities for housing in developing the London Plan
  • Cast Study: housing supply and safety in Camden
  • Meeting housing demands for people living and working in London: infrastructure, finance and development
  • The future of the private rented sector: quality of accommodation, affordability and the Draft Tenants’ Fees Bill
  • Next steps for social housing: supply, safety and the future for high-rise buildings

The presentations were very interesting and highlighted the number and complexity of issues surrounding housing in the capital. Whilst the speakers spoke of affordability, I question whether they are really able, or willing, to offer affordable housing in a high-demand market. Discussions around providing social housing and reduced costs for tenants on lower wages or benefits did not instil confidence that these properties would a) be available at the numbers required or b) actually be affordable.

There was a strong focus on the safety of local authority and social housing provision, particularly given the close timing to the Grenfell disaster. As with almost every governmental issue, availability of funds appears to be central to the issues surrounding investment in social housing. One London authority explained they have a 10 year capital programme of £1.4 billion but that less than 2% of that comes from central government.  They have to make decisions about how and where to spend that: new council housing, investing in community amenities or investing in repairs and replacement housing. The same authority (similarly to every other) is faced with:

  • No flexibility in setting their rents anymore
  • Right to buy receipts and the borrowing cap impact their ability yo manage their assets and invest in essential safety repairs (they did not explain why)
  • There are 5,000 people on the waiting list for social housing – both individuals facing homelessness and in terms of overcrowding.
  • A lack of affordable housing meaning that schools, hospitals, universities and businesses struggle to recruit employees as staff can’t afford to live within a commutable area.

Within this local authority average rent prices are 60% of the average household income and the average house price is 22 times more than the average income in the area (mortgages are provided on 3-4x a salary). The sheer breadth of the issues being faced is incredible and as a result we see the city absorbing suburbs and other towns to meet housing demand – it is now stretching as far as Luton. For me, it does beg the question, at what point will industries and services be encouraged to disperse across the country, providing opportunities to all citizens and not concentrating everything into one area.