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Architects condemn collapse in social housing

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Architects have voiced alarm after new figures revealed the full extent of the ‘devastating’ collapse in social housing provision brought about by the coalition government

The DCLG’s Affordable Housing supply tables for the year to March 2014, released last week, showed that the number of new social housing schemes for rent in England plummeted by 71 per cent in two years from 37,690 in 2012 to 10,840 this year.

After coming to power in 2010, then Tory housing minister Grant Shapps froze direct government funding for social housing, telling social landlords they needed to offer ‘affordable’ rents of up to 80 per cent of market rent in order to qualify for funding.

social housing graph

Social housing rents are linked to earnings while affordable rents are linked to private rental rates.

Since 2010, private rents have risen by an average of 13 per cent – equivalent to £1,020 a year, according to LSL Property Services’ Buy to Let Index.

Architect Peter Barber said the figures made him fear for the future of London.

‘It is one of the richest cities the world has ever seen,’ he said, ‘and we should be looking after people on low incomes because we can afford to. Anybody who tells you different is lying.

‘I cannot think of any city at any time which has had this kind of boom, and yet we’re not able to build any social housing.’

Former RIBA president Angela Brady said the figures suggested the capital was becoming a two-tier city.

‘There were some good policies in place but they have been eroded. In London we are in danger of getting the doughnut effect like Paris where they have a rich centre and a poor outer ring, and we don’t want that,’ Brady said.

‘A lot of providers have got private schemes in with their rental or low income group provision, which is good because you get a diverse range of people. But with the grant cut it has had a devastating effect on the amount which has been provided. We need to look for new ways to solve this problem, we need truly affordable rental schemes, not the 80 per cent which is on offer in most places. We need more philanthropists and more people encouraged to design for people and not just for profit.’

And Ben Derbyshire, managing partner at HTA Design, warned that housing associations ‘subsidising their own programmes rather than building affordable housing’ brought with it huge economic risks.

He said: ‘Housing associations are now on exactly the same cycle as housebuilders, so when we hit another correction in the market, the government isn’t likely to be able to throw money in to help the market at the moment it needs it.’

The new figures emerged as Labour’s 180-page Lyons Housing Review made the case for additional capital investment in social housing, which it argued was preferable to ‘shifting the burden to the housing benefit bill for future generations’.

Labour’s shadow communities secretary Hilary Benn, said: ‘David Cameron has presided over the lowest level of house building of any prime minister in peacetime since the 1920s, and these shocking new figures show a collapse in the number of homes built for social rent to the lowest level for over two decades.’

Former construction minister Nick Raynsford MP said: ‘They [the figures] are pathetically small. The government’s plan is Orwellian as a concept because they have promoted rent levels which are simply not affordable.

‘They cut grants by 60% and that inevitably meant higher rents through the shambles of the affordable rent model.

‘This is creating huge problems for people on low incomes who are being pushed into dependency then blamed for the rising cost of the benefit bill.’

A DCLG spokeswoman said: ‘Schemes like Affordable Rent have allowed more homes to be built than would otherwise be the case. This is complemented by our localist reforms … which have led to more new council housing last year than the 13 years combined of the last administration.’

Further comments

Clive Betts, Labour MP for Sheffield South East and chair of the communities and local government select committee
‘It is alarming. You are completely removing options for people on lower and middle incomes. The biggest cut of any program and this is the knock on effect. We have seen a massive rise in benefit claims by people who are working but cannot afford to live.’

Jon Broome from Jon Broome Architects
‘We seem to be permanently bad at delivering social housing in this country and one of the reasons is to due with the balance in power on the system.

‘The government LA’s and HA’s have delegated the provision of housing to developers on all fronts, and their priorities are not necessarily the same as those people who live in those houses, and that makes for an unsatisfactory situation.

Any sustainable housing system has to be balanced

‘Any sustainable housing system has to be balanced, and problems such as this need to be addressed.’

John Perry, housing policy adviser, Chartered Institute for Housing
‘The rise in homes for Affordable Rent is at the expense of homes for social rent, which have gone down considerably. The worry is not just that new build for Affordable Rent exceeds social rent for the first time, but that existing social rent stock is also being reduced through right to buy and conversions to Affordable Rent as tenants move out and new lettings take place.’

Dan Kehoe, specialist in housing consultancy at Savills
‘It is in the GLA and HCA’s interest to maximise the number of homes which are delivered. In their opinion the only way this can be achieved is for HA’s to maximise their rental returns. This is a particularly big issue in London and the South East.

‘The concerns for local authorities are that HA’s are setting affordable rent levels which are too high. Many councils are trying to retain a social rent ethos, with many asking for 50% rent levels, which is leading to tensions with the HCA and GLA.’

Adam Morton, policy leader at the National Housing Federation
‘Under the Affordable Homes Programme, the government encouraged housing associations to prioritise building homes for affordable rent. This was one way of helping fill the funding gap after investment in affordable housing was cut by 63% in the 2010 Comprehensive Spending Review.

‘Housing associations have also continued to build a significant number of homes for shared ownership, with or without government funding, to help low-to-middle income, working households buy their own home.’


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Readers' comments (1)

  • I think that Jon Broome is correct all political parties have delegated social housing provision to developers. Housing is developed, rent level are pinned to 80% private of rents which are unaffordable unless the state pays tax credits or housing benefit. We have forgotten why the 1919 Addison Act was passed to improve the health and welfare all the occupants at affordable rents !

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