Examination of Witnesses(Questions 60-79)|
TUESDAY 15 OCTOBER 2002
60. Can we have those figures?
(Councillor Dame Sally Powell) Yes.
61. On that question of affordability, looking
at the definition in the evidence that you have submitted, you
say that affordability is left to the market. You say, "This
Council regards housing as affordable if its cost to the occupier
. . . is equivalent to the cost of Registered Social Landlord
accommodation of similar size and quality in the Borough".
In other words, the market influences the question of affordability.
How can we influence the market?
(Ms Elkington) I think actually it is a question of
definition. The litmus test is RSL rents, but they are themselves
subsidised, so it is not really left to the market in that sense
because we will only work with RSL partners who are committed
to affordability levels that we find acceptable. The private market
rents, where I am also responsible for housing benefits
62. Who sets the affordability level? On this
occasion, it is the Social Landlords you refer to and you follow
(Councillor Dame Sally Powell) No, we work in partnership
with them. We go for a commissioning process and
63. Can I repeat what you said in evidence:
"The Council regards housing as affordable if the cost to
the occupier, however it is provided, is equivalent to the cost
of registered social landlord accommodation of similar size and
quality in the borough." That implies that you set the standard
of affordability on what social landlords do in the borough.
(Councillor Dame Sally Powell) That is correct.
64. How can we influence that? It is going up
all the time and, as you have just said, people cannot afford
to become involved. How can the Government influence that market?
(Councillor Dame Sally Powell) They need to increase
the grant to RSLs in high-value areas where the market is getting
out of control in comparison to the income of key workers.
65. Increasing the grant does not control the
market, does it? All it does is shove the prices up. What we are
saying is that the answer to all the problems is more money, and
obviously, if that is the way the borough sees it, there is no
end to it, is there? What we are looking for is how we can introduce
affordable housing into the London boroughs. You are saying there
is no way the Government can influence the market other than by
putting money into it.
(Councillor Dame Sally Powell) I do not think there
is any other way. We are talking about a housing market that is
out of control.
66. Should the Government be spending a higher
proportion of its housing funds on intermediate housing rather
than social rented houses?
(Ms Elkington) No, because, unlike many other boroughs,
our view about the intermediate housing market is that it is not
a substitute for affordable housing. I cannot justify spending
money on the intermediate housing market when I have 1,500 households
in some form of temporary accommodation and 650 families in bed
and breakfast, and a government target for next year and the year
after that says I have to get that down to a minimum level of
50. So for us, the intermediate market only works where we cannot
achieve affordable housing first.
67. Are the government programmes for shared
equity schemes and home buying making a difference? If not, how
could they be improved?
(Councillor Dame Sally Powell) They are making a difference
in some parts of the country, but they are not working in high-value
68. In your particular borough, how could they
(Ms Elkington) You will not like the answer, but the
answer is higher levels of subsidy in order to make sure that
what we are providing is housing that is local. If you look at
the Starter Homes programme, which we supported with many RSL
partners, we were unable, with the subsidy levels available, to
achieve any affordable intermediate housing actually in the borough.
We had to make a decision about what would be a reasonable travelling
distance for teachers and social workers. Whilst I accept the
argument that some public sector workers, for example, police
officers, may not want to live locally, clearly for some shift
workers it is an advantage to have them living locally to hospitals
69. How much subsidy is available to make shared
ownership affordable to a nurse? Is it worthwhile, or could the
subsidy be better used on social rented housing?
(Ms Elkington) If we are talking about the Starter
Homes initiative, the way it works is this: it is equivalent to
a £25,000 interest-free loan but, as Councillor Powell says,
the difficulty then is, even if they can secure that bit of the
equity, they still have to pay the rent on top.
70. How much?
(Councillor Dame Sally Powell) It depends on the value
of the property. It depends on what the price of the property
is. If you wanted to buy a one bedroomed flat in Hammersmith &
Fulham, it is probably about £190,000, so you get a £25,000
interest-free loan, then you have to find the difference of £165,000.
If you are a nurse on £15,000 a year, and you can get three,
three and a half or even four times your salary, so let us say
£60,000, we are now up to £85,000where does the
other £100,000 come from?
71. That is what I am asking.
(Councillor Dame Sally Powell) You need another £100,000
on that example, but it depends what the cost of the property
is. The Starter Homes initiative is not working in some London
72. So it is all ifs and buts.
(Councillor Dame Sally Powell) No. It is about "can
do, will do." That is my philosophy. We will do as much as
we can do, but at the moment we are being hampered by the rising
house market. We have done more than any other London borough.
We have achieved pro rata the highest rate of affordable housing
in London, and we have done it in high-value areas, but we need
some more help. There are lots of families with kids.
73. You still have 11,000 people on your waiting
(Ms Elkington) Eight thousand nine hundred and thirty
74. The question is, are you winning?
(Councillor Dame Sally Powell) No, we are losing,
because the Right to Buy means we have a net stock loss.
75. So there is no future in the present system?
That is what we are looking for. There is no future in the present
system, so we are looking to how we can change that system to
make it more affordable.
(Ms Elkington) As Councillor Powell said, since 1979
we have lost 26 per cent of our housing stock through the Right
to Buy. Even with our excellent record, our replacement level
is 200-300 a year. We are losing that; we are haemorrhaging properties,
200-250 a year, through the Right to Buy, and we have no way of
stopping that. So we are fighting to stand still. The net requirement
over supply is about 9,000.
76. How does your borough and its policy work
on exception sites?
(Mr Pallace) This is back to the first point I was
making. The way in which we deal with it is that we protect employment
land and community service land from change of use based on the
need for land for community uses and land for employment development.
We have an exceptions policy written into the Development Plan,
based on the rural exceptions policy which operates in rural areas.
77. How many affordable houses has it led to?
(Mr Pallace) It has led to a significant proportion
of all of the development we have carried out over the past decade.
78. How many?
(Mr Pallace) I do not have the number off the top
of my head. It is of the order of half. We can give you the details
of all of the developments in that time period.
(Councillor Dame Sally Powell) It is about 1,500.
(Mr Pallace) It is of that order.
79. How can the policy of the exception sites
ensure that mixed tenure communities are created?
(Councillor Dame Sally Powell) We are talking about
quite small sites. There will be 10-20 properties. For example,
we closed St Mark's School and developed it. That is right in
the middle of Parson's Green. You already have a mixed community
because you have a bit of private sector rented, lots of very
nice £4 million houses, and we put a bit of affordable housing
in the middle of it. I have to say the public in the area did
not like it very much, but that is a mixed, balanced community.