I was asked this morning on Twitter what I thought of the news that three former professional footballers, Rio Ferdinand, Mark Noble and Bobby Zamora, are leading an initiative to build 1,300 homes in a rundown area near Luton
They, of course, follow in the footsteps of Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs, but I understand that the Neville/Giggs scheme is to build two luxury skyscrapers and a five star hotel, not social housing.
It is not the first time that the rich and super rich have used their huge fortunes to address social inequality and provide housing. The social housing movement goes back well over 100 years to people like William Sutton (who founded the original and very successful parcel delivery company in London and then left money in his will to build homes for poor people in London), philanthropists like the Rowntree familiy, and many others.
The legacy of these philanthropists are housing associations. Unfortunately, many of today’s housing associations have betrayed the legacy of their founders and are now doing less and less development for poor people. Shared ownership products, homes for outright sale, and other more expensive homes have become the norm, and they price out poor and even middle earning people in some expensive housing areas like Brighton.
What particularly impresses me about Ferdinand, Noble and Zamora is that they intend to focus on social and affordable housing. Each development will have between 45% and 50% social and affordable housing, much greater than we see in many developments.
They are putting in their own money as well as working with private investors.
So what do I think? It is a shame that it is necessary to rewind the clock by more than 100 years where we need philanthropists, albeit former footballers, for stepping in where the government and housing associations fail to tread.