On Wednesday chancellor George Osborne announces the future of the housing sector in his spending review. Inside Housing has been campaigning to persuade him to continue direct funding with its Grant Britain Homes campaign. This week, Simon Brandon investigates the benefits subsidised housing has brought to communities across England
Until August last year, Amy and Craig Peters and their three young children lived in a privately rented one-bedroom property in the town of Camborne, Cornwall.
‘We were there nearly six years,’ recalls Ms Peters, 25. ‘Me and my husband slept in the front room, the kids slept upstairs. It was a really bad situation.’
Large numbers of holiday homes in the area coupled with a poor local economy had pushed house prices in the county to 13 times the average yearly income. In turn this created demand for private rented accommodation - and rents soared accordingly.
Today the Peters family lives in a brand new three-bedroom house in Coastline Housing Association’s £8.4 million Trevithick View development in Camborne. Almost half the cost of the scheme - £4.1 million - was met by Homes and Communities Agency grant.
‘It’s fantastic,’ says Ms Peters. ‘We’re not all on top of one another. My kids are getting older and they need their own space. We’re not cramped anymore. We eat together at a dining table; we never had that at the old place.’
Ms Peters and her husband, who is registered disabled, claim full housing benefit - and the £534 a month rent on their new three-bedroom property is lower than the £600 a month rent on their previous one-bedroom home. The grant used to build these houses will save money from the £22.4 billion welfare bill, and the Peters’ rent can now contribute, through Coastline’s coffers, to the development of similar schemes.
And perhaps more importantly, this new development has improved the lives of a local family immeasurably.
Before Essex-based landlord Swan Housing Association began to regenerate the Bow Cross estate in east London - a scheme that cost £100 million, £10.2 million of which was funded through HCA grant in 2009/10 - it wasn’t such a nice place to live, as long-term resident Roy Yusuff (pictured), 65, remembers. The garages and green areas surrounding the tower blocks were, he says, no-go areas.
‘That side was a drug-dealing den,’ he says. ‘It was used as a rubbish tip, [there were] abandoned tyres everywhere. After 8pm you just couldn’t go out that side. People were boxed in.’
Today the estate is a different place altogether. ‘Sometimes I go to resident meetings and there are no complaints,’ says Mr Yusuff. ‘That is how good it has become. I remember some visitors approached me last week when I was parking my car - they said “this place is beautiful! Is it good to live here?” and I said “Yes, it is. It is very good to live here”.’
A little to the south is the Leopold estate in Poplar, managed by housing association Poplar Harca. The estate is undergoing a £11 million redevelopment, of which £6.4 million came from HCA grant funding. Mike Haggerty and his wife Sheila have lived on the estate for around 30 years, and were recently decanted from one of the older blocks scheduled for demolition into a new property.
The regeneration has brought the community closer together, Mr Haggerty says. ‘Before… you never saw people in the streets because no one used to go out - it was dangerous. Now it’s a nice, clean street and
everyone talks to each other.
‘It’s made a big difference to the community - it has integrated [local residents] much more than before. The communal atmosphere is much better,’ he adds.
The unemployment rate in the north west of England is, at 8.6 per cent, well above the national average of 7.8 per cent. Nearly one in five children in the region live in a workless household. New and sustainable jobs are vitally important - and housing grant is playing its part in creating them in the region.
‘Our “Build, learn, grow” project… is a great example of how capital grant is helping improve neighbourhoods by building high-quality homes and at the same time creating jobs and apprenticeships,’ says Matthew Harrison, chief executive of Manchester-based Great Places Housing Group. ‘Without such grant funding, there would be fewer homes being built and therefore fewer employment opportunities for new starters.’
Build, learn, grow is a partnership between Great Places and Bolton at Home, along with contractors Seddon and Southdale, that will build 300 homes across the north west by 2014. It will cost £40.3 million, of which £8.2 million will be funded through HCA grant. It will also deliver around 25 apprenticeships in construction and supporting roles such as admin and technical design.
‘It’s about leaving a sustainable legacy of employment and training,’ says Nicolette Aydin, Great Places’ employment and training co-ordinator. ‘But it also means that if jobs come into that area, we have skilled people who live there already rather than having to bring people in from elsewhere.
‘It might be easy to create a load of apprenticeships to tick boxes,’ she adds. ‘But we are looking for quality, and to be able to sustain those positions.’
When bank Northern Rock collapsed in 2008, Leonard Fry, 65, and his wife lost everything. The mortgage payments on their house in the village of Copthorne, near Crawley in West Sussex, nearly tripled as a result, and they were forced to sell their property at a huge loss.
The Frys moved into private rented accommodation. It was costing them around £1,000 per month to rent, more than double their original mortgage payments. The situation proved unsustainable.
‘I was in a corner. I didn’t know how to get out,’ says Mr Fry. ‘We toyed with the idea of moving in with my wife’s sister in Plymouth. We’d have had to throw everything we had away - our friends, the people we know. You don’t really want that at our age, do you?’
The Frys were spared that upheaval, however. After receiving a phone call from Hastoe Housing Association at Christmas 2011, they moved into a newly finished social rented property two miles down the road.
Their new flat is part of a £3.3 million development - of which £890,00 was HCA grant - in the neighbouring village of Crawley Down.
‘My life would have been smashed to pieces if we hadn’t got this,’ says Mr Fry. ‘When we had the letter confirming we’d got [the new property], we sat down and cried. That’s how much it meant to us.’
The Frys - who have never claimed housing benefit - now pay £470 a month in rent, and the high energy efficiency specifications mean their energy bills have been halved too.
‘HCA grant support was vital to this scheme, and is the difference between being viable and non-viable,’ says Kevin Hartnett, business development director at Hastoe. ‘Without it, we couldn’t have proceeded with an affordable scheme.’
For the Frys, this new social housing has been the difference between staying in the community they love or starting all over again hundreds of miles away. ‘I’m not moving again,’ says Mr Fry. ‘Unless I’m in a box.’
Inside Housing’s Grant Britain Homes campaign calls for: