Guest post by Philip Grant in a personal capacity
On 14 November, Martin reported the questions which Cllr. Anton Georgiou had
asked at the Cabinet meeting about the
number of new Council homes Brent has delivered, and the proposal Cabinet was
considering about “converting” some homes the Council was building from London
Affordable Rent to Shared Ownership. The Leader, Cllr. Muhammed Butt, said the
Council would come back to him with a detailed reply.
Cllr. Georgiou has received that reply. He’s passed a copy to me, saying
he would be happy for me to share it, as it should be public knowledge. I’ll
ask Martin to attach the answers to the questions (prepared for Cllr. Butt by
Brent’s Head of Affordable Housing) at the end of this post. At the Cabinet
meeting, Cllr. Butt said that he hoped the Council and its Officers were not
being accused of deliberately misleading the public. As the information he has
supplied may be slightly confusing, I hope this article will provide a bit more
Brent’s Lead Member for Housing emphasising ‘genuinely affordable
(From the publicity video for Brent’s Clement Close
Much is made in Brent’s publicity about ‘Delivering 1,000 New Council
Homes’ (“NCH”). What does the Council’s housing policy actually say? Brent is
committed to there being 5,000 affordable homes built in the borough between
April 2019 and March 2024 inclusive. As part of that aim, the Council itself
has ‘a strategic target of delivering 1,000 new council homes at genuinely
affordable rent by 31 March 2024.’
There are two types of “genuinely affordable” rent which can be charged
by social housing providers such as Brent. The first is Social Rent (sometimes
known as Formula Rent, which is the maximum rent for each size of home,
calculated by the Regulator of Social Housing). This is the “rent capped” level
which can be charged to existing tenants of social housing provided by local
authorities and Housing Associations, or new tenants if the registered provider
choses Social Rent as the tenure. These Social Rents can only be increased by a
set “formula” each year, so rents paid by existing Council tenants may be less
that the maximum “rent cap”.
The current maximum weekly Social Rent levels. (Regulator of Social Housing website)
The second type of “genuinely affordable” rent, in London, is London
Affordable Rent. It was introduced by the Mayor, Sadiq Khan, in 2016, as the
genuinely affordable rent level at which new homes built using his “affordable
homes” grants could be charged. The weekly amounts are slightly higher than the
maximum Social Rent level. (Currently, the annual increase “formula” for both
rent types, set by the Regulator, is the previous September’s CPI + 1%,
although the cap for increases from April 2023 was recently limited by the
Chancellor to 7%).
London Affordable Rent levels. (From the GLA
affordable housing website)
I’ve given this information before examining the answers provided to
Cllr. Georgiou’s questions, as I think it will make it easier when I try to
explain some of the replies.
Paragraph from the 14 November “Update” report on the success of Brent’s
The item being discussed at the Cabinet meeting was an update on the supply of affordable housing
(see my guest blog of 11 November for more details). The Report said that the Council had developed and let 684 NCH. Cllr.
Georgiou asked how many of the 684 were at each type of rent level and what
types of tenure made up this total. This was the response:
Extract from the document sent by Cllr. Butt on 21 November.
In the first list, there are 235 new Council homes shown as being at
Council (which must mean Social) rent level. There is a reason for this, which
was first highlighted in a September 2021 “Life in Kilburn” blog about Brent’s “1,000
New Council Homes” Programme. 209 of those
235 were homes into which existing tenants from the Gloucester and Durham
blocks in Kilburn, which Brent will demolish to redevelop, had been
transferred. Their rents had to stay at their old Council/Social level, and its
possible that the other 26 at that level are for a similar reason.
The 253 of 684 at LAR are probably new homes that have been supplied to
people on the Council’s waiting list, or similar genuinely new Council tenants.
But what about those at ‘London housing allowance rent level’? You will notice
that the figure of 149 at that level matches the 149 shown for tenants in
temporary accommodation, and 92 of those will be at the Council’s Knowles House
development for temporary accommodation in Harlesden.
LHA is actually Local Housing Allowance level, a series of scales
calculated by the Valuation Office Agency as a way of setting housing benefit
entitlements for tenants living in the private sector. It is higher than rent
levels that the Council could charge as a social housing provider, so Brent’s
temporary accommodation is treated as a sort of semi-private Council housing.
Weekly LHA rates for areas covering most of Brent. (From the VOA’s LHA website)
The LHA figures applicable in Brent are those calculated for the Inner North
London (basically south of the River Brent) and North West London areas. They
are the maximum amounts which the tenant can claim Housing Benefit (or the
housing part of Universal Credit) for. In that respect, they can be seen as
“affordable”, but it is not the “genuinely affordable rent” which the 1,000 new
homes are meant to provide.
It will be seen that the 47 “Assisted Living” homes are not included in
the rent level breakdown answer, so they are not provided at “genuinely
affordable rent” either. And the claim that 488 of the 684 are ‘social rent
homes’ is also incorrect. As shown above, only 235 are at Social Rent level.
This is yet another example of the misleading descriptions of housing often
used by councillors and Council Officers. It would be correct to call the 488
“genuinely affordable” homes “social housing”, or Brent Council social housing,
but they are NOT all for ‘social rent’.
Another clarification that Cllr. Georgiou asked for at the 14 November
Cabinet meeting was the difference between the 684 figure, and that given to
the Scrutiny Committees when they were jointly considering Brent’s Draft
Borough Plan the previous week. When asked how many NCH had been built, the
Chief Executive, Carolyn Downs, said around 800. Cllr. Butt cut in to say 768.
From the reply now received it’s clear that those figures included new
homes completed in 2018/19, before the start of the five years covered by the
“1,000 New Council Homes” pledge. Of the 103 from that year, only 30 were
“general needs” homes at LAR. It may just have been a misunderstanding that a
higher figure was given at Scrutiny, but the councillors hearing it may have
mistakenly believed that was the current progress towards the Council’s target,
so the record needs to be put straight.
The final part of Cllr. Georgiou’s questions was on the thorny subject
of Shared Ownership. In a guest post on 12 October, I made clear that this is actually an “assured tenancy”, which would
only become “ownership” if or when the tenant succeeded in purchasing 100% of
the home. The information provided by Cllr. Butt showed “0” shared ownership in
the rent or tenure details, but then admitted that there were 39 ‘shared
ownership homes within the HRA account’.
At the Scrutiny meeting on 8 November, Cllr. Georgiou had requested ‘complete
clarity for the committee’ on Brent’s Council housing (see transcript at the
end of my 11 November “Affordable Council Homes”
guest post). When he put to the Chief
Executive that Brent appeared to be including shared ownership as part of its
Council housing, Ms Downs replied: ‘We have not ever built a single Shared
Ownership. Developers might, we the Council haven’t.’
That reply seems to have been playing with words. The shared ownership
homes in Brent’s Housing Revenue Account must include 23 built for Brent
Council, by a developer, under a Section 106 planning agreement, as part
of the Grand Union development (the other 16 may well have been acquired under
similar agreements). But under that same S.106 agreement, 92 of the 253 LAR
homes included in the 1,000 NCH count were built, for Brent but not by Brent. This
“double standards” treatment could be considered misleading!
You will see from the reply attached below that the proposed
“conversion” of “genuinely affordable” LAR homes to shared ownership, which
Cabinet approved on 14 November, and the commissioning of a report into shared
ownership demand in Brent, is explained like this:
‘The proposal was therefore to identify new
examples of best practice so Brent can be a leading example in any shared
ownership homes that it provides ….’
Along with the reply to the questions, Cllr. Butt sent two other
documents. These were a December 2017 Report by the Cambridge Centre for
Housing & Planning Research on “Affordable housing products in Brent and
their affordability to target client groups” and some “Shared Ownership data
sets” extracted from that report.
Shared ownership affordability for a couple with two children in Brent,
from the data sets.
The report seems to be the source of much of the data supplied to the
later Brent Poverty Commission, which led to this extract from a report to
Cabinet in October 2020:
Brent Council’s policy on Shared Ownership, as set out in a Cabinet
Report, October 2020.
That assessment does see the need for some shared ownership homes in the
borough. However, an “Update” report to Cabinet a few months earlier, on
progress towards meeting the strategic target of 5,000 new affordable homes by
March 2024, showed that other shared ownership providers had more than enough
such homes “in the pipeline” to meet that need.
Table from the July 2020 Update Report on progress towards the new
affordable homes target.
On the data currently available, it seems likely that there will already
be more shared ownership homes in Brent than existing Brent residents, who
might be thinking of this “housing product” in order to “get on the housing
ladder”, can afford. They are mainly suitable for young professionals, who
would like to eventually own their own home and who foresee their income level
rising significantly as they gain experience. But they are also the ones most
likely to have read about the pitfalls of shared ownership on social media (see
this 2020 guest post from a shared ownership
tenant in Kilburn)!
If you wanted to get on the shared ownership ladder in Brent now, there
are plenty of opportunities to chose from. But you can only qualify for this
supposedly “affordable” housing option if your annual household income is less
than £90k! Then, if you managed to get a mortgage to buy a 25% share of a home,
you’d probably have to pay service charges of at least £250 a month, on top of
your mortgage payments and rent for the other 75%.
A small representative selection of the shared ownership homes in Brent
currently advertised on the internet.
At the end of his presentation on 14 November, Cllr. Georgiou urged Brent’s Cabinet to reject the Officer’s
recommendation to “convert” LAR homes in the NCH Programme to shared ownership.
His plea, and the evidence he’d given to support it, was ignored. He tried to
get the Full Council meeting on 21 November to consider a motion calling for Brent to
concentrate on delivering genuinely affordable rented homes, and not to make some of the homes it plans to build shared ownership
or open market sale.
The attempt at a proper debate on the issue was ambushed by Cllr. Shama
Tatler, with a Labour Group amendment, which backbench Labour councillors were
“whipped” to support. But I still believe that ordinary residents should have
their say, so if you would like to, please add a comment to my guest blog “SHARED OWNERSHIP – Let’s have a debate!”
Have I figured out Cllr. Butt’s reply for you? If I’ve done my sums
correctly, more than 3½ years into the five year Strategic Target, Brent’s New
Council Homes Programme has only delivered 253 genuinely affordable new homes
for people on its long waiting list. It has also built 235 genuinely affordable
new homes for existing tenants, “decanted” from homes it plans to demolish in
order to redevelop the sites for housing in future. That’s 488 in total, out of
Councillor Muhammed Butt's reply to Cllr. Georgiou's questions.