Needs count for nothing in the mad housing market

COMMENT: Is a home affordable if its tenants are relying on foodbanks to feed themselves and their children?

Friday, 25th February

Landlord

‘The cost of housing does not correlate with the lives of so many people, particularly in places like Camden’

WHAT makes a home affordable?

The cost of living is so high that even a council home rent can be too expensive for many people struggling to get by.

Is a home affordable if its tenants are relying on foodbanks to feed themselves and their children?

Is a home affordable if you lose your job, your partner dies or your energy bills suddenly treble?

The cost of housing does not correlate with the lives of so many people, particularly in places like Camden.

Few would agree with the government’s simplistic definition of “social rented, affordable rented and intermediate housing provided to specified eligible households whose needs are not met by the market”.

Whose needs are ever met by the market? Time and again, developers’ needs are.

One of the many scandals of this age is that without huge regeneration schemes, such as the one planned at the 02 Centre in Finchley Road, substantial numbers of low rent homes simply wouldn’t get built at all.

This means we are often left with over-developed, tower-led sites because lucrative private housing is packed in as the priority.

Such a system makes strange bedfellows of council planners and the corporate partners, the latter has one central aim, however they green-wash it, and that’s reaping profit for shareholders.

The population has risen over the past 20 years but house building is at historic lows due to huge cuts in government grants and settlements to local authorities.

House prices and private rents skyrocket in ways that feel both alarming and crushingly familiar.

In any sensible society, social housing rents would not be linked in any way to this mad, out-of-control market that by its nature never provides for people in need.

And yet 40 per cent of allotted social housing homes proposed for the 02 Centre development are designated at “intermediate rent”, where rents are set at around 80 per cent of the area’s market rate.

Currently, this would be in the region of £4,000 a month for a family-sized three-bedroom flat in West Hampstead. What will it be in 15 years, when the project is expected to be complete, is anyone’s guess.

There’s no doubt intermediate rents are a great help for some young couples unable yet to buy a home, but they clearly should not be used to replace truly affordable homes from the people who need them.

The council, commendably, stood firm against the developer Essential Living that tried to remove social housing from 100 Avenue Road.

It must take the same hard line when it comes to Landsec and developers in NW5, and make sure there is a meaningful amount of truly affordable homes in these two golden opportunity sites.

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