Tuesday, 01 December 2015

Council rejects affordable homes programme

A London council has rubber stamped its rejection of the £1.8 billion affordable homes programme and pledged £2.5 million of its own money for housing associations to build social homes.

James Murray, executive member for housing at Islington Council, yesterday said the authority had agreed to hand capital over to housing associations that will help build 61 social homes in the borough over the next two years.

The cabinet agreed in its planning policy towards the end of last month it would not adopt the government’s affordable rent strategy. It is the only London borough to reject the model, which gives limited grant for homes to be let at up to 80 per cent of market rent.

The plans are now with the planning inspectorate and could be disputed as it is understood the mayor of London, Boris Johnson, is unhappy about the council’s position.

Mr Murray told a conference organised by social enterprise Home Connections in London yesterday that affordable rent was not the ‘right product’ for Islington Council: ‘We need affordable accommodation so people can live in a manageable commuting distance from London.’

The money for the social homes would come from the ‘new homes bonus and other sources’, Mr Murray said.

The council has also agreed to sell its own land at discounted prices to a group of 10 housing associations to build affordable homes in Islington.

Mr Murray also told the conference officers had, anecdotally, experienced people refusing housing association homes because they are worried about not being able to afford the rent.

‘We are already hearing some housing association properties are hard to let,’ he said. ‘People are so concerned [about not being able to pay rent] that people are reluctant to move and reluctant to move into new homes even if they suit their needs.’

He suggested people’s social mobility was being affected by this and families preferred to stay in overcrowded homes rather than risk not being able to afford rent in a new property.

Islington Council’s executive also decided on Tuesday this week to guarantee rents for people who downsize. If someone has lived in a property for years their rent is likely to not have risen by much, Mr Murray explained, but if they move into a new property it will be a new target rent – so could be more, even if the new property is smaller.

The council has guaranteed the rent for people who downsize to its properties will not increase. It is now going to talk to housing associations to try to persuade them to do the same.

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