West Way Community Concern

Sustainability is also about permanent affordability ….. here’s why

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by Fran Ryan, Oxfordshire Community Land Trust

In looking briefly at the blog I notice that there is a lot of concern about sustainability. This is commendable particularly if it means sustainability in its fullest sense: a sustainable community. One that can endure. And that means a good mix of people including the bus drivers, firefighters, police officers, shop assistants, teachers, nurses, bin collectors, care workers, farm workers etc, in short all the people we need to keep our lovely city thriving. People need to live close to where they work, not 10, 20 miles away with the stress of travel making a long day even longer, and clogging up the roads.

But the reality is that there are few homes in Oxford that are now affordable to many of our key workers living on average incomes. The Oxford Times regularly features articles about employers not being able to recruit because of local house prices. If this continues where will we be in another 20 years?

So let’s make sure that when we talk about affordable we mean genuinely and also permanently affordable homes. Such homes need to be affordable when they are first bought or rented but also and this is the crucial thing, they need to remain affordable even when those people move on.

While talking on the one hand of building more affordable homes the government has in fact extended the Right to Buy (with the massive discount which is at the root of the problem) to a whole new swathe of social rented homes owned by Housing Associations. People will buy these ‘affordable’ homes with a sizable discount and, as soon as they change hands, they are no longer affordable. The discount (a public subsidy) benefits the first person who exercised the Right to Buy (and who can blame them), then the house is sold at the open market rate. Another affordable home gone forever.

Since the 1980 housing act kick-started the current wave of Right to Buy, 2.5m social rental homes* have been sold. A further problem is that much of this housing has moved into the private rental sector with higher rents sometimes double or more. Many of these tenants are entitled to housing benefit and a conservative estimate suggests that this costs the government/tapayer in excess of £1bn per annum (and probably nearer to £2bn)* in additional housing allowance over and above what it would have cost had those homes still been in the social rental sector.

Oxford City Council is one of the few councils who have kept their social housing stock intact and continue to try to find ways to avoid the Right to Buy in recognition that a sustainable city needs a sustainable housing sector. The Land Trust movement is also focused on this same end goal: we wish to create a sector of homes that remain affordable in perpetuity. This is done by a mix of the following:

  • The land is owned by a community land trust thus removing it from the open market and also from the overall cost of the house (your house is expensive because the land it is built on has increased in value, not the cost of the house itself). There is a strong land lock on this and the land can’t be sold for profit on the open market.
  • There is no Right to Buy whether the homes are rented or part-owned. If part-owned no one can buy 100% of the home. Once the share is sold it has to be sold to another person in housing need on average or low income. Mutual home ownership where people have a ‘share’ in a housing development is another way of protecting affordability in perpetuity. Read about Lilac in Leeds to see how they did it.

The assumption of the Land Trust sector is that the country will need a stock of homes for people on median incomes who will never be able to afford to rent or buy in the open market. There is no objection to home ownership as such, rather an acknowledgement that most people on average incomes simply can’t afford to buy and many have no wish to. There are now 175 Community Land Trusts (CLTs) in England and they have built about 5000 homes to date. In Oxfordshire Stonesfield Communty Trust have through sheer hard work and careful management have built up 16 rental properties for locals and a nursery school.

In commenting on the new West Way development, ask for the maximum number of permanently affordable homes to be included to ensure sustainable housing for the future of Botley.

References:

* Sprigings N and Smith Duncan H. (2012) Unintended Consequences; Local Housing Allowance meets the Right to Buy. University of Glasgow and Renfrewshire Council

Jones C and Murie A (2006) Right to Buy, Blackwell

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