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Housing crisis: affordable housing drops for first time in 10 years

Call on government to commit to ‘clear and realistic’ definition of affordable housing as output in the sector falls

The desperate state of England’s affordable housing sector has been exposed in new data showing the first drop in completions in nearly a decade.

Just 52,880 affordable units were built in 2011-12, compared with 53,080 the year before. ‘Social rent’ completions fell by 0.4 per cent to 34,970 homes.

The new figures follow official GDP data showing a 20 per cent fall in new public housing construction output in the three months to August.

The new data comes as pressure mounts on the government to clarify its position on affordable housing. David Cameron was forced to backtrack after he said local councils should honour Section 106 ‘existing affordable housing commitments’ in a press release that was later rewritten.

The relaxation of Section 106 rules set out in the Growth and Infrastructure Bill will exacerbate the shortage of affordable housing. Communities minister Don Foster said it wouldresult in a drop of 10,000 units.

The government’s definition of affordable housing is also under fire. A report for the London Tenants Federation argued that affordable housing is used as a smokescreen by politicians wishing to appear to address the issues. In his foreword to the report, Birkbeck Urban Studies senior lecturer Paul Watt dubbed it a ‘con’.

The report claimed around 24,500 new social rent homes were needed annually in London alone but City Hall targets aimed to deliver only 7,927 units. Furthermore between 2007 and 2010 the number of market homes delivered was 165 per cent above assessed needs.

It also claimed the flagship ‘affordable rent’ scheme – pegged at up to 80 per cent of market rent – would require household incomes of £33,375 to £44,500 in the capital.

According to The Guardian, a housing association in London required a minimum household income of £59,000 to qualify for ‘affordable’ housing.

Piers Taylor of the Invisible Studio said: ‘The report also exposes the key fact that affordable housing targets don’t reflect evidenced need. A clear and realistic definition of what is actually “affordable” would be a good place to start.’

Chris Wilkie of Rees Pryer Architects said the ‘affordable’ definition has led to ‘considerable confusion and misinterpretation’ inside and outside the industry.

He said: ‘Simplicity and clarity in terms of definition is essential, but more importantly working together for the improvement of society and the quality and availability of housing.’

 

Affordable housing comment

 

Piers Taylor, The Invisible Studio

Affordable Housing’ is a meaningless term – a vacuous piece of politico rhetoric recently exposed as a ‘con’ in a guide published by the London Tenants Federation.

There are several key and valid points made by the guide. The first is that the Government’s definition of ‘Affordable Housing’ never refers to housing that is affordable – more, it refers to specific types of homes. PPS3 defines social-rented, intermediate and affordable rent homes as ‘affordable housing.

Also, the housing defined by the government as affordable isn’t affordable for households that have less than the median national income. The new affordable rent tenures (60-80 per cent of market rents) will require an income of between £33,375 - £44,500 – a significant mismatch between this and the national mean income of £30,507.

The report also exposes the key fact that affordable housing targets don’t reflect evidenced need –Most politicians assess housing via the numbers of households and individuals registered on council housing waiting lists, but because of lack of supply of affordable housing, people are discouraged from registering on housing waiting lists so those lists tend to underestimate need.

In addition, irrespective of this, social housing targets have not been met for the last three year  - for example, in three years 2007-10 the target for social-rented homes was 32,025- just 15,083 were delivered.

Time for a rethink? Seems that way. Perhaps to begin with, a clear and realistic definition of what is actually ‘affordable’ would be a good place to start. Whether this will happen within perhaps the most ineffective government in recent times or not remains to be seen – but if one was to judge on delivery elsewhere, I’m not holding my breath.

Chris Wilkie, Rees Pryer Architects

Certainly we have found that the changing definitions of ‘affordable’ has led to considerable confusion and misinterpretation. On one side it is understanding which category of affordable is being considered – social or intermediate rented or shared equity – and on the other what actually constitutes affordable.

From our perspective when carrying out community consultations on proposed schemes, the general understanding of affordable housing by the public is that of ‘cheap housing’, i.e. low quality design, cheap materials, poor space standards and so on.  In actual fact they are surprised when we explain that they are often of a much higher standard than open-market housing, having to satisfy more criteria such as Code for Sustainable Homes, HCA requirements, Design and Quality Standards, Lifetime Homes standards, most of which they have never heard of.

Affordable should relate to the proportion of income a household expends on providing a home, including rent or mortgage and energy use.

Sustainable communities are what we need and this relies upon a mix of households, dwelling types and tenures.  Simplicity and clarity in terms of definition is essential, but more importantly working together for the improvement of society and the quality and availability of housing.

 

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