BARRATT HOLMES, our housing correspondent, on City Hall figures that show Croydon Council’s house-building strategy is letting the housing market take its course
New figures from City Hall show that Brick by Brick, the private housing developer owned by Croydon Council, is building precisely zero homes for social rent under a multi-billion-pound funding scheme by the Mayor of London to boost the supply of truly affordable housing in the city.
While other local authorities around the capital are using the Mayor’s £3.1billion fund to help build what used to be known as council houses, or at least flats which are managed by the local authority and rented at well below the local market rate, Brick by Brick is doing nothing like that.
Mayor Sadiq Khan, announced his house-building fund last month, providing money to councils and housing associations to build an extra 50,000 homes around the capital by 2021.
According to City Hall, the first tranche announcement, “will see an estimated £1.7billion invested in 49,398 genuinely affordable homes… with new homes in all 32 boroughs and the City of London. They will be delivered by 44 housing providers – including large and small housing associations, as well as nine London councils”.
Croydon, however, is not among those nine councils.
For Croydon has “off-shored” all its home-building responsibilities to Brick by Brick, the brainchild of council CEO Jo Negrini, in a massive transfer of public property to a private company.
“I want to see everyone playing their part in tackling the housing crisis in London, because it is simply unacceptable that Londoners continue to be priced out of a city they call home,” Khan said when unveiling his housing fund.
“We know that solving the housing crisis is not going to happen overnight, but I very much welcome so many housing associations and councils matching my ambition by committing to build the new and genuinely affordable homes Londoners so desperately need.”
Note that: genuinely affordable.
Khan is redefining the terminology used around housing provision, to move away from the profoundly misleading “affordable” tag which has been applied to any homes built by developers or local authorities and which were made available, for rent or to buy, at 80 per cent of the market rate.
Social housing – old-school council homes – allowed people to work without being dependent upon housing benefit. Rent levels were set well below 80 per cent of market rate. But this has been replaced by (non-affordable) affordable housing, which is beyond affordability to people on low incomes.
The latest house-building figures under the new fund were provided in a written answer at Mayor’s Questions last week.
- They show that the square mile of the City of London is using Mayoral funds to build 244 homes at what City Hall defines as London Affordable Rent – effectively social rent.
- London & Quadrant, one of the larger housing associations which has thousands of properties across the capital, including in Croydon, is building more than 900 social rent homes under the Mayor’s scheme.
- Evolve, what used to be the Croydon YMCA, is to build 49.
- And even Tory-controlled Wandsworth Council is using City Hall funds for 62 LAR homes.
- But here in Croydon, no homes are being built by the council or Brick by Brick for social rent under the Mayor’s scheme.
Brick by Brick is taking £5.572million from the Mayor to build 199 homes, all of them for shared ownership or “affordable” rent. These may never be within realistic reach of the working families who are seeking a place to call home.
Brick by Brick was set up with a promise to build 1,000 homes on council-owned property. It is a scheme which even got Croydon a name check in Jeremy Corbyn’s leader’s speech at last year’s Labour Party Conference, after Alison Butler, the deputy leader of Croydon Council, had told a packed audience of her party colleagues: “We can no longer afford to sit back and let the market take its course.”
Yet even when they drew up the scheme, Butler, Negrini and senior council figures knew that half of Brick by Brick’s homes, being built on public property and using public funds, were to be flogged off on the open market, supposedly to help finance the delivery of the rest. Letting the market take its course, you might say.
Indeed, the market is already being allowed to take its course with Brick by Brick’s homes, since the council has already admitted that they will not even manage to meet their own 50 per cent target of “affordable” homes. If our council cannot deliver on its quota of affordable housing, and is not using public funds to deliver homes for social rent, there’s little chance that any of the private developers busying themselves around the borough will go out of their way to include such low- and no-profit options in their schemes.
There remains a further £446million of Mayoral housing funds available when bidding re-opens later this year. It will be instructive whether the Blairite leadership at Croydon Council makes any bids for money to help provide social housing in the borough.
Councillor Butler was invited to comment on the latest figures provided by the Mayor of London for Brick by Brick’s house-building plans. But unlike last year when she was so keen to take the plaudits at the Labour Party Conference, she now has nothing to say.
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