Last year, I was proud to join my fellow commissioners from the Barnet Labour Housing Commission to launch the our report recommending policy changes that would lead to a massive increase in the availability of affordable homes in Barnet.
Home Truths for Barnet recommends alternatives to Barnet Council’s current housing policies, which have not built enough affordable housing in the past and will fail to meet the borough’s need for housing in the future.
As chair of the Commission, I’m proud of what it has achieved. We have produced a detailed piece of work which really lays bare the failings of Barnet council to look after the housing needs of its residents in both the public and private sectors. This report offers Barnet council a road map for getting housing back on track and offering a better future for its residents.
Average property prices in Barnet of nearly £500,000 are 12 times the median household income, putting buying a home out of reach of local residents, and the median private sector rent of £310 a week is not affordable for half of the households in the borough.
The report was published as Barnet Homes, the council’s housing agency, revealed that the number of families made homeless after being evicted by private landlords has more than doubled in three years, from 700 in 2012 to 1,700 at the end of 2015. The total number of households accepted as homeless by Barnet and housed in emergency or temporary accommodation in September 2015 was 2,846, including 3,968 children.
The report’s key recommendations would make renting in Barnet more affordable for households on modest and low incomes, build 5,675 more affordable homes than currently planned and license private landlords so that private tenants are better protected from eviction and unreasonable rent increases.
The report recommends that:
· Social housing rents should be set at 30% to 50% of market rates, or £93 to £155 per week at current prices.
§ This compares with Barnet Council’s policy that the average rent for new council tenants should be £201 a week.
§ The definition of an “affordable” rent for planning purposes should be a third of net income, not up to 80% of market rates, or £248 per week, as it is now.
§ High rents in private and social housing have led to higher housing benefit claims, costing the council £263.8m in 2014/15 – an increase of 74 per cent since 2007/8.
· Half of all new homes built in Barnet should be affordable, with three in ten new homes built for social rent and two in ten built for ‘rent to buy’ or shared ownership.
§ The current target that 40 per cent of new homes should be affordable has been consistently missed by Barnet Council with only 1,123 “affordable” homes built in the three years 2011/12 to 2013/14, which was 30 per cent of all new homes.
§ On Barnet’s current projections for new housing, only 31 per cent or 8,690 of the 28,730 homes planned would be affordable, and only 19.7 per cent or 2,080 of homes with actual planning consent are affordable going forward. Labour’s recommendation would increase this to 50 per cent or 14,365, an increase of 5,675 affordable homes.
· Private sector landlords should be licensed by the council and a decent homes kitemark awarded to landlords meeting quality standards and minimum legal requirements.
§ About 37,000 households in Barnet or 26 per cent are private renters. The council forecasts this will rise to 35 per cent of all households by 2025.
§ Many councils have introduced licensing for the private rented sector, helping to tackle rogue landlords and enforce tenants’ rights.
§ The council doesn’t know how many private landlords rent housing in the borough because there is no registration or licensing scheme.
· Regeneration of existing council estates must benefit the residents who live there first.
§ Disastrous handling of estates regeneration in Barnet is leading to a net loss of 827 social homes for rent and longstanding residents not qualifying for new tenancies. On the West Hendon, leaseholders were originally offered less than half the value of their demolished properties, with the offer only upgraded after mass public protests and a public inquiry.
§ Regeneration plans for the Grahame Park estate in Colindale will lead to a net loss of 352 social rented homes, down from 1,428 to 1,076, alongside the building of 1,867 new private homes for sale and lease and 363 low-cost shared ownership homes.
The housing commission was set up by Barnet’s Labour councillors and has held seven public hearings and taken evidence from over 40 expert witnesses including housing professionals, London Boroughs and campaigners, and attracted over a hundred members of the public to its sessions since it first met in November 2014.
You can download the full report here.