Murky Depths

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Greenwich borough

Greenwich Council seek to buy more homes outside borough as homelessness increases

Dartford

Greenwich Cabinet will next week look to extend a scheme to purchase homes outside the borough to house homeless individuals and families as pressures grow.

In recent months the number of homeless people and those on the housing list have jumped substantially. Many more people are being placed in insecure emergency accommodation, which is also extremely expensive for taxpayers. Costs have increased from £4 million a year in 2014/15 to £13.1 million last year. There are 50 people now housed in Medway.



Greenwich has lost a large number of homes to Right to Buy over recent months and years since the coalition Government eased rules without ensuring adequate replacement. Amongst the large number of applications has come a slew of fraud – with one in four applications now fraudulent across the borough.

Estates have seen large numbers of homes sold with little to replace them

Central Government restrictions have made it extremely difficult to build new social homes with just 30% of Right to Buy income allowed to be allocated towards building new homes. Councils must seek another way to raise 70% to fund the rest. In this instance they are using general borrowing of up to £45 million to make up that gap when buying existing homes off the market.



There is now consultation on changing income allocations to 50% but many critics state this doesn’t go far enough.

Yet alongside stringent rules have Greenwich Council been too slow to grasp the opportunities they still have? For years this site has highlighted the low number of new homes planned both directly and through council housing company Meridian Homes.

Greenwich are bottom of the list across London according to Centre for London research when it comes to planned homes versus need according to the London Plan.

Site of future homes beside Zone 3 station. Is land being maximised?

Even now, what the council call “ambitious” simply isn’t, with plans for 750 council homes starting in 2022 and just 250 via council developer off-shoot Meridian Homes.

Meridian Homes can be a tool to cross-subsidise social homes through an element of market sale rather than selling land to private developers to do similar after a 20% profit margin – which of course lessens the number of possible social homes. A council developer can re-invest every penny of profit towards more social housing.

Lewisham plan 1,000 homes with their equivalent and Southwark more than 2,000.



Even Bromley Council are looking at over 1,000 homes within their own borough in the next three years to assist the homeless problem.

Greenwich Council and the term ambitious aren’t always great bedfellows. When browsing reports Officers will often use it when the evidence says otherwise.

They use the same term numerous times in internal reports when it came to spending developer and parking income on improving areas of the borough, when research shows they are at the bottom of London Labour councils by quite some way. Again, even Conservative Bromley plan more than that. Most other Labour councils are far, far ahead.

Selling land

Much land in the borough that could provide housing has been sold, with some of it being used to fund the Woolwich Creative District. And going further still, they intend to sell other plots rather than develop or use Meridian.

Riverside House has been sold with some income funding Creative District instead of housing

Even when homes have been built, all too often they’ve been at extremely low density limiting the number of new homes on plots. You’ll hear some say that because people want houses. I’m sure the tiny minority who receive the keys do, but building bungalows near inner London stations when mid-rise buildings exist in the vicinity is leaving a hell of a lot more people in a terrible plight.

Modest four story blocks in certain places would still help far more people than one or two story units.



Then we have the Pocket Living saga. Instead of building directly or via Meridian and cross-subsidising some social homes on site, the authority want to pursue selling one plot to a company providing expensive flats which are borderline legal as things stand – and with possible regulation changes now being mooted that could result in those plans being illegal.

Sadly this mess was all too predictable. A disastrous set of central government housing policies going back decades under pretty much all parties is compounded by a lack of urgency locally and targets below almost all other councils. And now everyone pays – whether its taxpayers forking out for B&Bs at £100 a night as well as those who do not know where they’ll be living next week or where their kids will go to school.

It’s a huge mess – and shovelling millions more taxpayers money towards buying existing homes (which of course fuels demand and increases costs for first time buyers) is not a long term solution.

 

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6 Comments

  1. Jo

    After following policy for years I’m dubious the authority even want to solve this issue. The government could give them far more powers and they’d find excuses not to provide what is needed. If half of those in charge lived a few miles south how many would be wearing blue rosettes? Then again, they’d be too tory even for Bromley.

    The issues are:

    1) Many are old and havn’t a clue about the reality for younger generations. Compare it to a far greater number of young cllrs in many other Labour councils who experience the current reality firsthand.

    2) With an older demographic comes comfort for many of them as they bought when average prices were far less than today. How many Labour cllrs live on council estates?

    3) Even worse, many are landlords or multiple home owners themselves. See how many excuse themselves from council debates on second homes due to conflict of interest.

    The council buying up loads of homes instead of building new ones doesn’t hurt them. In many ways it helps them.

  2. anonymous201486

    Councils could vastly improve the housing crisis by thinking differently. Modular homes are quick and inexpensive to build and the 30% that the government currently allows to be taken out of right to buy sales could go a lot further.

    The truth is that London boroughs, in common with metropolitan councils all over the country, do not want to solve the housing problem and would rather export the poor out of their area.

    The wealth of this country is tied up in land and property, but fewer people is able to get a footing. If everyone had somewhere decent to live, where would big developer and buy to let landlords make their money?

  3. Graham

    There are also a lot of homeless people in the Borough that have come to Greenwich hoping to be housed form other London Boroughs, from other areas around the UK and from overseas who want to be housed with in Greenwich Borough.

    Before I get shot down in flames I work with homeless people and I try to get them back in touch with their estranged families to see if there is anyway they could return home or be re-housed nearer to their families by the Local Authority where the used to live,

    But have to agree with Jo and anonymous201486 that Local Authorities in London and around the UK do not want to solve their housing problem and pass the buck between each other.

    Hundreds of thousands of pounds given to GLLAB (Greenwich Local Labour and Business) could have gone towards supporting the homeless many of whom are vulnerable or have addictions.

    • Charles Calthrop

      In the late 90s I remember applicants for Westminster Council housing were being sent out to the (then new) estates at Beckton instead of the hoped-for flat off Dorset Square or Church Street. Many were encouraged to come to the UK by family who had purchased their flat from the Council and were hoping for a similar break in a desirable part of a modern European country. I imagine that Greenwich would prefer to shift the new poor outside of its borders and concentrate on those who can buy into the glamour of living ‘where time began’..

  4. Joe F

    I live in the Borough and would quite happily sell my flat back to the Council but that isn’t going to happen if they’re wheeling out an average price of £334,372 for a flat purchase in the borough (see .pdf link in the above article).

    £334,372!

    My flat would be barely a third of that price to buy back but you just know that the Council will wheel that figure out as a reason not to buy in-borough. Since new landlord legislation which has come in recently, I would hazard a guess that there would be more than a few landlords who would be prepared to sell their ex-council flats for an easier life (I’m not a landlord incidentally).

    As suggested elsewhere, the will simply doesn’t appear to be there to make this work and truly help the homeless.

  5. Graham

    Agreed Joe. However, It not only the homeless that need help, It is people that are classed as low priority (single people and childless couples) that are stuck on the social housing list for years and years and forced in to privately rented accommodation that they struggle to afford.

    These two groups of people receive very little help and support from Local Authorities to find more suitable affordable homes.

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