As the debate over the pernicious Housing and Planning Bill continues in the Commons, I have a piece this morning on the Guardian Housing Network explaining how the Tories have redefined affordable housing so broadly as to make the term almost meaningless.
You can read the full article here, or see below:
The Tories have made ‘affordable housing’ a meaningless term
As London house prices rocket, politicians have redefined the meaning of ‘affordable’ instead of helping people who need homes
Photograph: Oli Scarff/Getty Images
Thursday 7 January 2016
For decades “affordable housing” meant exactly what it said on the tin – homes that were affordable, even to those on low incomes. Prior to 2010 traditional affordable homes, whether council housing or housing association properties, stayed true to the adage that their purpose was to provide an affordable place to live for even the less well off. Affordable housing was, in short, affordable.
No more. One of the most worrying proposals in the government’s recently announced planning reforms is a fundamental redefinition of affordable housing.
Under the plans, the increasingly catch-all term “affordable housing” would stretch to include even properties that are affordable only to people on some of the highest incomes.
The Orwellian reinterpretation also leaves open the door to include new housing tenures that we have not even dreamt up yet, irrespective of whether or not they are actually affordable to ordinary people.
The gradual redefinition has been going on for some time. First the government brought in the Orwellian affordable rent model, urging housing associations to charge up to 80% of market rates that are affordable only in name. Then after last year’s election they introduced starter homes, which will cost up to £450,000 in Greater London and be affordable only to households earning at least £77,000 a year. In effect, they are redefining “affordable housing” into a term so broad as to be almost meaningless.
But it’s not just a definition; it has a real impact on the types of home built, as a certain portion of every new housing development has to be set aside for affordable homes.
Imagine a development of 100 new homes. Then say 31% of these have to be affordable, as is the case on the latest Olympic Park estates. When you take out a share of those 31 homes for shared ownership, 80% market rent homes, and starter homes, each of which developers will prioritise as they are more lucrative, the number left for genuinely affordable social rent is minuscule, if it exists at all.
It is the result of a government intent on reducing the overall proportion of affordable homes, while at the same time including new types of housing in the affordable category, regardless of how much they cost.
There is, of course, no problem with housing products aimed at those for whom market housing is beyond their means, but who do not qualify for traditional affordable housing. It should be our collective aim to make home ownership a more realistic prospect for more Londoners. This is a massive challenge considering average house prices are now £176,000 higher than when Boris Johnson took office eight years ago, but one we must address.
There will also be many Londoners who will never be able to afford even sub-market housing.
As pernicious as the debate on housing solutions can be, one thing we should be able to agree on is that the answer isn’t just to idly brand vastly expensive properties as affordable.
Including more expensive properties in the definition of affordable housing will squeeze out the traditional types of affordable homes London most needs, for example social rent. Section 106 agreements, which previously would have provided a split between social rent, affordable rent and shared ownership, will instead by dominated by starter homes that are anything but affordable to the average London household.
I raised these concerns with London mayor Boris Johnson at mayor’s question time recently. He seemed utterly unaware of the devastating consequences this will have on housing in London and refused to make the case to government. He boasted that a third of central London is social housing, but that ignores the fact that less and less is being built and more and more is being sold off across the capital.
The housing crisis has long been predicted to be the key battleground for this year’s mayoral election. Whoever wins will need to stand against the increasing erosion of truly affordable properties in London. If this carries on it will completely undermine the mixed and balanced communities that are the hallmark of London’s success.