By Cllr Lib Peck
Leader of Lambeth Council
Various Coalition government policies have made it harder not easier for us to deliver the new and affordable homes we need in Lambeth – not least the 50% cuts to our funding – but we remain more committed than ever to doing so.
Lambeth is already one of the most densely populated boroughs in the country, and yet our population is anticipated to grow still further. The number of households is forecast to increase from 130,000 in 2011 to 158,000 in 2030.
That means there are simply going to be more households in need of homes than we have available.
At the same time, this increasing pressure on our local housing markets is causing prices in Lambeth, both to buy and to rent, to soar. Many local families are finding it increasingly difficult to find an affordable place to live.
Yet the Coalition government have slashed capital funding for social housing, as well as making it harder for us to require developers to provide a decent proportion of affordable homes. Likewise, the Mayor of London Boris Johnson has changed the definition of ‘affordable’ to 80% of market rent, which puts it far out of the reach of many ordinary families.
Government policies like the Bedroom Tax have again added yet more pressure to the growing housing demand and made it harder for our residents to make ends meet.
As a council, we do our best to lobby against these changes and to fight for a fairer deal for Lambeth. But meanwhile all this means that more and more people are approaching the council for social housing, and that more and more people – particularly those in work but struggling to make ends meet – are having to claim Housing Benefit.*
This is an unsustainable situation, and the only way to tackle it is to increase the number of homes in Lambeth.
That’s why – despite the raft of unhelpful policies from this Government – ensuring that new homes are being built to accommodate Lambeth’s growing population, and that existing council homes are kept at a good enough quality to remain in our stock for years to come, are two of our highest priorities as a council.
We have a good record of delivering new social and affordable housing. We’ve delivered 2866 new affordable homes so far in the last five years, and we’ve committed to building 1000 more new social homes over the next four.
But we can’t do this on our own. We must ensure we attract investment into Lambeth by working with housing associations and developers. So too we must be firm with developers on what we expect from them – demanding at least 40% affordable housing, and a mixture of good quality family sized and smaller accommodation too.
It also means working with the community; delivering new homes through innovative partnerships, like the 350 new homes we’re building at a range of social and affordable rent levels in Somerleyton Road; as well as regenerating estates where we know the quality of housing has not been good enough, like what we’re doing at the Myatts Field North project. This will also deliver 305 new homes, of which over half will be affordable. Both have included the community at every step of the way, provide new community spaces, and offer jobs to local people.
We’re also spending over £490m in improving the standard of the homes we already own, bringing them up to the Lambeth Housing Standard, which has been co-produced by Lambeth Tenants and Leaseholders. That’s the biggest ever investment in Lambeth’s homes. Each home we keep in good condition is another home for a Lambeth family to live in for years to come.
At the same time we’re working with those who are already in severe need to avoid homelessness. We have a duty to help them, but we don’t want families stuck in temporary accommodation. It’s not good for them, and it’s not good for us. Families lack the stability of a settled home; meanwhile every pound we spend on funding a place in temporary accommodation is a pound we could have spent on building new homes. And it’s only through building those new homes that the pressure on housing demand can be quelled.
That’s why we’re offering people in temporary accommodation the opportunity to be supported into a secure, private tenancy – we do all the leg-work, putting the paperwork in place and ensuring that the tenancy is both stable and safe. That means a family with a more secure place to live and more money for us to invest back into Lambeth homes.
At the election we said that everyone in Lambeth deserves a decent home. It should be clear, the Coalition government and the Mayor of London have not made it easy for us, but we’re working hard to make this ambition a reality for our residents.
*In Lambeth, we have 21,000 people waiting on our housing register, many of whom live in overcrowded conditions.
We have 1750 people living in temporary accommodation.
Lambeth has the highest percentage of households receiving Housing Benefit of any region in the country, and the second highest number of Housing Benefit claimants in London.
Cllr Lib Peck is Leader of Lambeth Council and Chair of the CCIN’s Commission on Community Resilience, Jobs and Enterprise. Follow her on Twitter at @cllrpeck.
This article originally appeared on Cllr Peck’s personal blog.