Will ‘affordable’ rents that tenants can’t pay fund estate rebuilding?
01 December, 2017
Tenant George Syria outside his flat with campaigner Mike Crowson
• I HAVE been following the redevelopment proposals for the St Mary’s Path estate in Upper Street (on behalf of a disabled friend who has been in hospital) and I can see several issues raised by the Protect Our Estate Together group which would concern me if I were a tenant there myself, and a couple more that I do find problematical as an informed observer (Estate demolition fears over damp, November 24).
At one level, the various proposals under consideration raise the number of homes from 103 to 137, which addresses the urgent need for more rental property in London. Housing density will be achieved by either building additional storeys to existing stock, or the demolition and redevelopment of the whole site.
Against that, Islington and Shoreditch Housing Association (ISHA), replying to the Tenants’ Association, clearly states, looking at “fair” and “assured” tenancies, “… but we will need to create other tenures to be able to finance the improvements on the estate”. The implication is that “affordable rents” (an oxymoron, since many cannot afford them) rather than “social rents”, and sales, at least in the form of shared ownership, are planned by ISHA as a way of financing the refurbishment or demolition and reconstruction. ISHA wants more rental and other income.
It may also be considering a mixed housing group with a private developer, though that is not expressly stated. As an observer I can see that, at the very least, ISHA might want to get rid of as many “fair” or “target” rents as possible and re-let homes at higher rents. I can see the Protect Our Estate Together group’s concern.
When it comes to re-housing of existing tenants during the proposed redevelopment, the policy outlined in ISHA’s Home Loss and Disturbance Policy is full of good intentions, but hedged around with so many caveats as to make it uncertain to say the least.
ISHA will decide what is “suitable” – and its definition is somewhat vague; it will decide where is suitable – “…as regards proximity to work”. The financial implications are also worrying: “… the Association may offer a ‘customer’ to be rehoused a property in a new-build development at an ‘affordable’ rent, rather than a target or social rent. In this instance, the offer will be deemed suitable even if the rent is substantially higher than the one currently paid by the ‘customer’”. It is also clear that it expects Islington Council and other housing associations to help with the rehousing.
There is, incidentally, an attempt to disown the responsibility of a housing association to its tenants by depersonalising them as mere “customers”. I notice that clause 6.2 of the policy document, referring to “diversity”, also refers to “customers” with a “protected characteristic” which is, I suppose, meant to include a wider (but vaguer) range of disabilities.
Two other possibly disquieting effects of the rehousing policy are referred to under clause 4.1. Adult children “… may be offered alternative accommodation separately from their parents”. This might be very welcome to some, but has implications for adult dependant children and will in any event have financial implications for extra rent and council tax. Additionally, tenants will be offered only one “suitable” alternative accommodation – and recall that “suitability” will be decided by ISHA itself.
Housing associations have just been released by last week’s Budget from restrictions on raising loans. There is now less excuse for raising funds from developers interested only in profit. When an appropriate planning application is finally made, the Green Party will urge Islington Council to set appropriate restrictions against exploiting tenants or the community for profit.
Green Party campaigner