Rents fall in areas of good housing supply

The housing crisis can be addressed if two key principles are addressed: supply and affordability. It is obvious, I know.

In the past I have, wrongly, called for an approach that based on ‘build, build, build’. No longer.  With the shortage of land in places like Brighton and Hove, it is what is built, and it must be affordable.

The phrase ‘affordable’ has been corrupted by government, which uses the phrase in the context of rented accommodation as 80% of the market. That means in this city rents of £784.80 a month for a one bed flat are regarded as ‘affordable’.  A flat costing £784.80 is more affordable than one where the rent is at the average charged (£971 per month).

Most developers are, understandable, attracted by securing the maximum return on their investment. They are risking huge sums of money, and they want a return on their investment consummate with that risk.

But that does nothing to help the housing crisis. Homes for sale in the city have long been beyond the means of many local people.  I was on BBC Radio 5 Live recently discussing the housing situation in Brighton.  On the programme was a self-employed plumber who has been struggling for years to buy his own place.  I think he said he is in his early 40s, works hard and determined.

In parts of Battersea in south London (SE11, SW11, and SW8) the number of properties available to rent has increased by 28.1% since the beginning of the year. This has led to a 6% decrease in rents being charged over the same period.

Now most of these properties are buy-to-let investments, and will beyond the means of ordinary people. But the lesson is important. If we can develop homes for rent with a mix of social and ‘affordable’ rents, then the market will begin to readjust, and the hopelessness experienced by many renters will be eased.

The general election, politics and charities

Charities have to be very cautious at the best of times about never being seen to support or oppose a particular political party. While there have been attempts, formal and informal, to restrict the freedom of charities to speak out on issues, these have been resisted.

In normal times it is fine for me to say that a particular policy will have a positive or negative impact on our client group, even if that policy is associated entirely with one political party. It is not acceptable to say: “Those evil (party name), typical of them proposing ….” And equally unacceptable to say: “I love the (party name), they are so wonderful ….”.

During a general election it is all the more restrictive. There is a fine line that can easily be crossed by statements that can be seen supporting or opposing the manifesto of a particular party. There are things I have long called for which might, and I suspect will, be in the manifesto of various parties, but not all.

Therefore, discretion is the better part of valour at these times.

In some elections we have a procession of politicians wishing to be seen visiting BHT or one of its services. The approach we will be taking this year is not to agree to a visit to BHT services by local candidates. I will meet with any of them to brief them on the issues facing our clients and those facing BHT itself.

In one election, three candidates who were due to debate each other on the Sunday Politics South East asked me to brief them. I t was amusing to listen to them, two of them normally at odds with each other, agreeing with each other, the third ignored what I had said and opposed the other two.

So this blog will be more toned down than usual. I will be publishing real life stories of clients but none will be related to the election.

But come 9th June, I might just find my voice again!

Sex-for-accommodation and denying housing benefit to 18-21 year olds

BBC South East has done a great public service by uncovering the sex-for-rent scandal where young people are asked to provide sexual ‘favours’ in return for accommodation. The report on tonight’s programme (13th April) shows the need for a change in the law as this arrangement is not illegal.

Demanding sex for accommodation has not been an uncommon reality for homeless people for many years.

Earlier this month the government withdrew the automatic right of young people aged 18 to 21 to claim housing benefit. While there are some exemptions, up to 11,000 are expected to be affected over the next few years.

That seems like a sensible policy in light of tonight’s exposure ….! What do politicians think young people will do if they can’t get help towards their housing costs?

Special showing of Cathy Come Home 10th October 2016

The iconic film about homelessness in Britain, Cathy Come Home, will be shown at a special screening at the Duke of York cinema, Preston Circus, Brighton, on Monday, 10th October which is World Homelessness Day.

cathy-come-homeCathy Come Home tells the desperate tale of Cathy, who loses her home, husband and eventually her children through the inflexibility of the British 1960’s welfare system. A bleak picture is painted of mid-sixties London, and though realistic the viewer cannot but realise that a political point is being made.

The film, directed by Ken Loach, was first screened as ‘The Wednesday Play’ on BBC 1 in 1966.

This special screening will be raising funds for our Advice Centre in Queen’s Road, Brighton.

My colleague, Nikki Homewood, who is BHT’s Director of Advice and Support Services, said: “Our day centre, First Base, works with the visible homeless – those sleeping on the streets now. The Brighton Advice Centre works with people who are invisible, who you wouldn’t notice, but who are facing homelessness and major disruption to their lives and those of their children.

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Nikki Homewood

“Our Advice Centre prevents several hundred households from becoming homeless each year. Each case of homelessness we prevent saves the local authority £16,000.

“Through our Court Duty Scheme, a service not available to Cathy, we had a 93% success rate over the last year in preventing homelessness for at least 28 days and usually for ever.

“Events such as this screening are so important for the future of our Advice Centre. We receive invaluable funding from Brighton and Hove City Council and the Legal Aid Agency, but BHT still has to invest £200,000 each year into supporting our advice centres in Brighton and Hove, Eastbourne and Hastings.  I dread to think of the consequences if these advice services were not there.

“Advice services prevent homelessness, and without them the invisible people we work with would soon become the visible homeless living on our streets.”

The screening will take place at 6.30pm on Monday 10th October 2016.

We now have our fourteenth housing minister since 1997, and none have got the job done

Last night on the Stephen Nolan programme on BBC Radio 5 Live I heard a lovely interview with Ed Vaisey who, until Friday, was the only member of the government to have been in the same position since 2010. (Apparently the other three not to have changed role in government – Cameron, Osborn and May – left their respective positions two days earlier!)

Back to Ed Vaisey. Most people won’t have heard of Ed Vaisey. He gave a fascinating insight into the life of a minister up to and including his sacking in Friday. He was warm, funny, self-effacing and accepting of his fate. He said that just the main players tend to be known to the public and that the only time he was ever recognised was after appearing on a programme called the Wright Stuff on Channel 5. I don’t think we have seen the last of someone as talented as him.

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Gavin Barwell MP, the new Minister for Housing and Planning (oh, and also Minister for London)

Longevity in ministerial life, and in one position, led me to think about housing, and the high turnover of housing ministers. Yesterday Gavin Barwell was appointed as the new minister. He is the eleventh housing minister in the thirteen years since I became chief exec of Brighton Housing Trust, and the fourteenth since 1997.

The Conservatives have had five in six years:

  • Grant Shapps June 2010 to September 2012
  • Mark Prisk September 2012 to October 2013
  • Kris Hopkins October 2013 to July 2014
  • Brandon Lewis July 2014 to July 2016
  • Gavin Barwell July 2016 to ?

Labour’s record is no better with nine in thirteen years with some not lasting even a year:

  • Hilary Armstrong 1997 to 1999
  • Nick Raynsford 1999 to 2001
  • Lord Falconer 2001 to 2002
  • Lord Rooker 2002 to 2003
  • Keith Hill 2003 to 2005
  • Yvette Cooper 2005 to January 2008
  • Caroline Flint January 2008 to October 2008
  • Margaret Beckett October 2008 to June 2009
  • John Healey June 2009 to June 2010

With the housing crisis at its worst in living memory (rough sleeping alone has increased by 55% since 2010), wouldn’t it be something if a minister was appointed and told they would stay in the job until they had got the job done rather than housing being the stepping stone in someone’s fabulous (or not so fabulous) career?

BHT’s Learning and Development team wins prestigious business award

I am really pleased that BHT’s Learning and Development team won the Training and Development Award in the Brighton and Hove Independent Business Awards at the weekend.

BHIBA Winnter 2016The ceremony took place in the Bupa Lounge at the Amex Stadium and was presented by Nick Wallis, BBC One Show presenter and Channel 5 reporter.

The award recognised how the team effectively manages the training needs of BHT’s 250 staff across 20 services. Each service has differing client groups with varying needs.

The team also provide an essential service to the wider community through their annual training programme under the guise of BHT Training, which is offering no less than 42 different areas of training in its 2106 / 2017 programme. Do check it out, there’s bound to be something for you.

At BHT we are all proud of the reputation of the Learning & Development team, and the success of the service is largely due to the team’s dedication and hard work. Congratulations to Pascale, Susan, Nicola and Daniel for this great achievement.

To find out more about the great work of the team or to book some of our quality training please click here to visit the BHT Training website.

 

 

 

In light of the housing crisis, the Help to Buy ISA is like a pimple on the bottom of an elephant

Home ownership and renting in Brighton and Hove will remain, indefinitely, beyond the means of most ordinary people, especially those under the age of 35, because of a combination of high house prices, rocketing rents in the private rented sector, and government policy that is costly but ineffective.

The government’s Help to Buy ISA is irrelevant in areas with high housing costs like Brighton and Hove. Very few properties are for sale below the £250,000 cap.

According to the BBC and Zoopla, the average one bed flat in Brighton and Hove is £240,000. What hope is there for any household with a child who need something larger? The average 2 bed house is £408,252, the average two bed flat is £338,598.

A report published today by the BBC has shown that very few people can take advantage of the government’s starter homes initiative.

Even if they can take advantage, the maximum they can benefit is just £3,000. That represents a pimple on the bottom of the elephant that is this housing crisis!

It is one thing if a single initiative fails, but there are other measures that are costly but ineffective.

The government’s Starter Homes initiative is equally ineffective in areas like Brighton and Hove. Starter Homes allow discounts for homes in new developments for first time buyers but you will need an income of £60,000 to £70,000 to afford the cheapest new homes coming on the market in the city.

This initiative is costing £4.1 billion and is doing next to nothing to alleviate the housing crisis, does nothing for people in the private rented sector, does not address the obscenity that sees people sleeping rough on the streets of the people, and does nothing for the 23,000 people on the housing waiting list in Brighton and Hove.

The extension of the right to buy to housing association properties will just add to the shortage of homes that are affordable to ordinary people. There is no economic logic, housing imperative, or moral justification to continue with the Right to Buy, let alone extend it.

There are other measures, due to come in from April 2018, will further add the affordability crisis. Rents in social housing will be capped to the Local Housing Allowance – less than 1% of private sector accommodation in Brighton and Hove falls within LHA levels.

Forget shared housing. We will soon be seeing an increase in shared rooms, with total strangers renting beds rather than their own room. We are turning the clock back to the bygone age, one that I never thought we would see again.

The impact of the government’s announcement to restrict housing benefit to the average cost of a room in a shared house for anyone under 35 will make much housing, even in social housing, unaffordable.

BHT’s most recent analysis shows that all the properties that we lease from private landlords and then rent out to people who would otherwise be unable to compete in the housing market, will be unaffordable for anyone under 35.

Even amongst the homes we own, which have rents amongst the very lowest in the city, 57% will be unaffordable.

There will be an ever increasing number of people sleeping rough over the next 5 to 10 years and an increase in the number of people living in overcrowded housing.