The Olympics look set to deliver a strong legacy for housing, but wider issues must also be addressed
Let the games begin
This week we are celebrating the London Olympics which kick off in a month just a javelin’s throw from our east London office. For most housing professionals, the main event is the legacy of 8,000 new homes by 2030, 2,800 of which will be in the athletes’ village and occupied within two years of the games. Unlike the legacies of recent host cities, half of the 2,800 will be affordable and 675 will be let at social rents. As we report, this makes the Olympic village England’s last large-scale social housing development.
Although this is poignant, the 1,400-home Triathlon consortium and Newham Council are ensuring they have their eyes on the horizon when they allocate these properties. In common with other local authorities and housing associations across the country, Newham is stipulating that the majority of new tenants must be in employment or actively pursuing it.
In the same week as a seminal speech by the prime minister on the welfare state, and in particular the role of housing benefit within it, this approach to the former athletes’ village is important. First, it gives the lie to the impression given by Mr Cameron that social landlords are not as keen as he is to ensure scarce resources are allocated to those contributing to a ‘responsible society’. Second, it clearly demonstrates that ‘housing benefit recipient’ does not equal ‘scrounger’, or in Mr Cameron’s words those who feel they ‘are owed something for nothing’. Figures from the Department for Work and Pensions show that almost a quarter of the 3.7 million people of working age who receive housing benefit are in employment.
The new homes also serve as a reminder that subsidised house building helps prevent a spiralling housing benefit bill as it keeps rents low. Mr Cameron may feel understandable outrage that housing benefit will cost the taxpayer almost £24 billion this year, but his affordable rent regime will only reinforce that. Yes, grant-funded homes require taxpayer support too, but what would the same taxpayer think is better value for money: investment in new homes, or spending on an ever-larger housing benefit bill, much of which goes to private landlords? Let the games begin!