The latest government statistics on “affordable homes” in Swindon (see link below) show that over the last five years less than 10% of homes have been affordable even by the government’s own definition. Worse still, not a single home has been added at ‘social rent’ (council and housing association rent level). Most of the 541 added have been “affordable rent”, which is up to 80% of market rents. In Swindon the properties which the council owns and charges “affordable rent” for, have on average rent of 37% higher than the ‘social rent’.
The number of council owned properties has fallen from 10,507 in 2012 to 10,299. Even with an increase in the number of housing association homes, ‘social housing’ stock has fallen as a percentage of the town’s properties.
There is a crisis of affordability across all the housing tenures.
Despite four years of a 1% rent cut for council tenants, over the long term council rents have risen way above inflation. So much so that we have the new phenomenon of some applicants on the waiting list being refused tenancies on the grounds that they cannot afford the council rent.
Private sector rents have outstripped earnings and inflation. Statistics from the Valuation Office Agency show that between September 2011 and September 2018 the average rent for a lower quartile (cheapest) room in shared accommodation increased by 31.66% in comparison with an increase of lower quartile earnings of just 13.4%. The latest statistics in Table 4 below show how high rents are.
The Centre for Cities has reported that the average price of a house in the town is more than eight times average earnings, way beyond the means of many residents. In 2018 even the cheapest lower quartile properties were 8.05 times lower quartile earnings (see note below).
So acute is this shortage of genuinely affordable housing in the town that we have seen the emergence of people living in ‘beds in sheds’ (outhouses adapted or built) and even garages! A council Environmental Health Officer, speaking in relation to a prosecution of a private landlord, tolde the Advertiser:
“The tenants in this case were exposed to significant risks to their health, safety and welfare over a prolonged period of time. ‘Beds in sheds’ as they are known are increasingly becoming a problem locally and nationally and it appears that landlords feel they can get away with providing sub-standard accommodation.”
We have been told by the council that house prices in Swindon are lower than places like Reading and Oxford. However, if local people cannot afford them they will simply attract people from outside the town who will commute to work, clogging up the roads, a prospect recently welcomed by a Cabinet member according to his comments in the Advertiser.
Martin Wicks, Secretary of Swindon Tenants Campaign Group said:
“An increase in the number of homes built in the town is not in itself a solution to the housing crisis. We face a crisis of affordability because of the decline in council housing numbers, price to earnings ratios rising and rents in the PRS outpacing inflation and earnings.
Government policy has meant that if the council applies for grant from Homes England to build new homes it has to agree to charge “affordable rent” (nearly £30 higher than a council rent) and convert some existing homes to “affordable rent”. We now have the phenomenon of people on the waiting list who come top in the bidding process, being refused tenancies because they cannot afford council rent.
Although the council has a paper policy of 30% of homes built being “affordable” it is not happening in practice. Building expensive homes to attract people into the town when current residents cannot afford them will only add to the inequalities that exist. There can be no solution to the housing crisis without a return to large scale council house building, charging ‘social rent’.”
Since 2010 the median house price in Swindon has risen from £155,000 to £227,500 in 2018. The lower quartile price over the same period rose from £120,000 to £175,000.
Download a PDF here to see the statistics tables novaffhomes2019
Not sure whether you would want to publish my critical reply to your blog, so I am sending it as a personal email.
In reply to the first three paragraphs of your 25th November blog:
Para 1: It is not only the government who invented and is now trapped in the affordability ruse. Having added to the confusion rather than clarified it, Labour’s 2018 Green Paper mentioned the “A” word 280 times. Today it is no nearer to making “Affordable Housing” plain for ordinary people.
For example, just published is Labours https://labour.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/Funding-Real-Change-1.pdf and in this 44 page document with its scant reference to housing, and NO mention of the “A” word, we are treated to the following dense fog of “clarity.” Or, as we used to say in the old days, “It is as clear as mud.”
“…using a scaling factor by calculating the difference in award per week between the weighted average LHA rate growing in line with LHA eligible rents (baseline scenario) and the weighted average of the 30th percentile rent, rising in line with the growth in actual rents. This scaling factor is applied to the overall expenditure on Local Housing Allowance in each year under the proposed policy, and the baseline expenditure forecast is subtracted. This is then adjusted by a constant percentage to account for the difference between the 2020-21 estimate and the Department for Work and Pensions’ own published estimate for that year.” p19
I put this to a senior lecturer in statistics who is a long time labour supporter. “Opaque” was the conclusion.
One thing that is absolutely clear to me is that the current Housing benefit bill of £23,400,000,000 is a guaranteed and controlled way of transferring public money straight into the pockets of private landlords, Council house redevelopment partnerships, and Housing Association regeneration schemes. This secure and steady income stream allows the new property tycoons (Councils and Housing Associations) to leverage funds for their social cleansing ‘Redevelopment’ schemes. Its the stuff that investment bankers and the financial aristocracy love to see and hear. It is at the heart of the loss and destruction of Council and Social Rent Homes. It must stop.
Para 2: you refer to “a crisis of affordability across all the housing tenures.” Tory and Labour are both set on continuing to flog the unaffordable tenures of Help to Buy, Shared Ownership, Rent to Buy, Living Rent, Part Rent Part Buy ALONGSIDE the tenures of Council and Housing Association houses, ie on the same site of their celebrated redevelopment programmes. These tenures are being pushed by many Labour Councils chasing the cross-subsidy myth, and it is these tenures that are excluding and reducing Council and Social Rent, and pricing Council tenants out of a home, decanted miles from their community. The so called low cost housing rhetoric is supported by a nasty cross-party consensus which must be broken if workers are to reclaim the same housing rights to Council Homes as the middle-classes have to their private capital-gains homes.
Para 3: Social Rent tenants have been fighting for 80 weeks on the streets of one campaign and 120 weeks in another housing campaign in Cambridge, to save their social homes. The social landlord whinges about the 1% rent cut at the same time as bleating about how they have been forced by the present government to take on more ‘risk’.
In reply to this moan, a submission made by Cambridge’s working people to their social landlord says the following:
“On page 15 of the social landlord’s commissioned report from Cambridge University, (https://www.cchpr.landecon.cam.ac.uk/Research/Start-Year/2017/income_linked_rents/jrf_chs_income_linked_rents_final/DownloadTemplate/view), the researchers define Affordable Rent as a rent which enables social landlords to, “…build more homes with less grant by charging higher rents (up to 80% of market rents) on the new homes, plus converting enough relets to Affordable Rents …”
From Table 9, page 17 of this same piece of commissioned research, we find that, 50% of ‘Affordable Rent’ Full Time working Tenant households, have a gross weekly income of £415, (ie average weekly income is £415). From Table 8 (page 16) we find that 50% of ‘Social Rent’ Full Time working tenant households, have a gross weekly income of £340, (ie average weekly income is £340.)
Our observation, not echoed by the researchers, is that this is a very large difference. Applied to the Social tenants in Cambridge this would mean Social Rent tenants average weekly income would have to increase by more than a fifth (22% £75) to match the average ‘Affordable Rent’ tenant. If we assume that the average Affordable Rent tenant can just about reasonably ‘afford’ their rent, the average Social Rent Tenant would have to pay a very unaffordable proportion of their income to rent an Affordable dwelling. This would clearly not help to solve the housing crisis for existing tenants, but rather deepen it. This observation is confirmed by noting that the Social Rent Tenant income of £340 is only just over the bottom quarter of Affordable Rent Tenancies.
On the question of “converting enough relets to Affordable Rents,” could you confirm that for every Social Tenancy which ends for whatever reason, the present ‘Social Rent’ status of a Cambridge Social home WILL NOT be converted to ‘Affordable Rent’. That is, any reletting of a Social Rent tenancy in Cambridge WILL always BE at a ‘Social Rent.’
102,000 social rent homes have been lost through these conversion in the last five years. https://www.insidehousing.co.uk/comment/comment/lets-stop-converting-social-rented-homes-to-affordable-rent-54922, confirmed by the Chartered Institute of Housing, https://www.insidehousing.co.uk/news/news/government-statistics-show-37-drop-in-social-rent-conversions-59305. If providing Social housing is a core mission objective, protecting existing ‘Social Rent’ housing must be at the heart of this mission. Are Cambridge Social Housing bodies intending to follow the lead of other Social landlords and cease this malpractice?”
Of all the redevelopment programmes throughout the UK, supported by Labour Councils, will Labour pledge to stop “converting enough relets to Affordable Rents.” Could Labour Councils confirm that for every Council Tenancy which ends for whatever reason, the present ‘Counci Rent’ status of a Council home WILL NOT be converted to ‘Affordable Rent’. That is, any reletting of a Councill Rent tenancy in the UK under a Labour Council or Labour Government WILL always BE at ‘Council Rent.’
In all the redevelopment programmes and schemes Labour is funding, is there now a new Manifesto pledge that Council tenants moving into these new so called affordable homes will not be charged at the higher Affordable Rent rate, or the higher LHA rate that is the basis for the bogus investments in Council Housing and redevelopment lies wrecking the communities of working people.
Lionel Workers Housing in Cambridge
Well, Labour’s Manifesto commits to ending “affordable rent” and the conversion of ‘social rent’ homes to ‘affordable rent’. Some Labour councils haven’t introduced AR, some have. Obviously we need to stamp them out. Fundamental changes in the new manifesto as compared to the Green paper, though, of course, there is a lot of detail unclear.