Guest post: Greenwich’s Cabinet member for Housing Chris Kirby
Greenwich’s Cabinet Member for Housing Chris Kirby has written a guest post on future housing plans with the borough. Thanks to him for this.
Facing the housing crisis head on
As a borough Greenwich has 17,000 people on our housing waiting list and more than 800 households in temporary accommodation. Those figures are stark, but are by no means unusual in London, where the housing crisis is at its most acute.
So, what are we planning to do about it?
Since our election in May, we have been working behind the scenes to come up with a plan to deliver a radical step change in the number of socially rented homes we can deliver in the borough.
In October I’ll be publishing a full plan with proposals for how we do this, some of which I have set out below:
A new target to build 750 council homes – started on site by 2022
To reach this ambitious target, we are preparing a bid to the Mayor of London’s Building Council Homes for Londoners Fund to lift our borrowing headroom and to access grant funding. This would give us the freedom to fund and build new council housing.
A new target for Meridian Home Start to deliver 300 homes
These 300 homes would be in addition to the 750 new council homes that we are intending to build. Meridian is a key partner and will be crucial in the coming years as we seek to significantly increase the number of homes that we want to build for local people.
Explore the creation of two Community Land Trusts
Community Land Trusts are a radical way of providing affordable housing and we want to explore the feasibility of establishing two sites in the borough. In the coming months we’ll be inviting proposals and seeking to identify residents who may be interested in creating a Trust.
Continue to offer specialist housing for those who need it
For understandable reasons the debate around housing provision tends to focus on the number of new homes being delivered. But we also need to ensure that we are delivering high-quality, specialist accommodation for those who need it. So our proposals also include a commitment to continue delivering first-class accommodation for people with specialist needs.
Seek to make the private housing market accessible to local people
The housing crisis isn’t just about those stuck on social housing waiting lists – it also affects far too many people in poor-quality, extortionately-expensive, private-rented accommodation. As a borough, I don’t believe we can accept a laissez-faire attitude to people struggling in the private sector market who want to buy their own home – especially when we know that 2,000 young people in the borough have registered an interest in intermediate, affordable housing.
We need to take a careful and considered approach and – where a development would work for us – we should seek to intervene in this market on behalf of young people in the borough.
As a Labour Council we believe in council housing and we know that building genuinely affordable, social-rented homes is the only way out of the housing crisis.
But shamefully, since 2010 we have had a series of Tory governments determined to
prevent councils and housing associations from doing that, for entirely political reasons.Three policies in particular have put a roadblock in the way of social homes being built:
- The Tories are the first government in living memory to provide absolutely no money from central government for the building of social housing – meaning that developers need to find the money to build in other ways (too often from higher rent levels, or by building unaffordable homes to cross-subsidise the dwindling supply of ‘affordable’ and social homes).
- The government has changed the rules around the use of Right to Buy receipts:
offering a lucky few tenants a discount of up to £108,000 off the price of a home in the borough, while – after taking a cut for central government – stipulating that councils can only spend 30% of the money remaining from a sale on providing a new home.
As a council, we have to ‘find’ the remaining 70% of the cost of a new build home within three years, or face having to hand this money over to central government – with interest.
- In 2012, the government reformed the rules around the financial management of Local Authority Housing stock – the so called HRA Cap. Because of the stringent restrictions on borrowing that these reforms imposed, we are prevented from borrowing against our 23,000 properties in order to build new homes.
These are by no means the only challenges we face, but they provide some insight into the determination of the Tory government to drive down the ability of councils like Greenwich to build the homes we want to build.
I hope this helps to provide a flavour of our ambition and determination to deliver the homes our residents so desperately need and the size of the challenge that we face in doing so. On Tuesday 18 September between 1pm and 2pm, I’ll be holding a Twitter housing Q&A, so feel free to quiz me on the plans above, by using #QuizKirby.
In the meantime, you can follow me @ccakirby