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Archive for the ‘Housing’ Category

by Green Cllr Maya de Souza

As the Camden New Journal reported, Camden’s Labour administration has proposals for the Highgate Newtown Community Centre site. The proposals, released for consultation last week, involve demolishing and rebuilding some of the centre and building substantial private sector housing. The downsides would be loss of the key part of the youth centre ie the old church on Winscombe Street, closure of a dedicated children’s centre, and construction of a large five-storey block of flats.

All of the homes are intended to be for private sale; none for the affordable housing so vital with the pay differentials and inequality we have in London. Immediately there will be a tension created between raising funds by selling these homes and having a community centre on site, with a tall building casting a shadow on the reduced courtyard of the Centre and buyers being put off by young people, children etc

So Camden Greens are calling for, not only a careful assessment of need for children’s services before a decision is made to lose this dedicated facility and protection of youth services in the area, but also an innovative approach to the housing development.

What we would like to see is this space used for innovative affordable housing which takes from the housing co-op movement and from the history of the nearby Holly Lodge Estate. This would involve space-saving apartments, built to a very high standard of design, combined with more communal space, for social activity and some spare rooms for hire for visiting children or grandchildren.

This would not only be for older people, but also for others who like to have some support or community activity. This site is ideal as some of the community centre space could be used out of hours. In this way, we could make these homes affordable appealing to those who struggle to live in the area, whilst improving well-being through addressing isolation. Homes would be to live in not for buy to lets, strengthening community and taking away speculation.

This closer community way of life worked well for Holly Lodge Mansions – hugely innovative in its time providing safe supportive housing for women. Once again we need innovation with our ageing population and ever increasing house prices, and I am confident that our many architects can come up with some excellent design.

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mayabedroomtaxCamden Greens last night called for a debate tonight at Full Council on a motion urging  action by the Council to protest against the bedroom tax by making a clear statement that it won’t evict for this reason.

Cllr Maya de Souza went into the meeting still seeking a seconder for a motion that also called for further resistance to the government’s attack on the poor. Full details here.

This demand was supported by Camden United for Benefit Justice, with members presenting a passionate delegation to the meeting.

At the last minute, Cllr Rahel Bokth, a Lib Dem, agreed to second it.

But the Council did not get beyond first motion, so there was no a chance to debate it.

The Mayor,  Jonathan Simpson,  and Cabinet Member for Finance, Theo Blackwell, intimated that they would agree to debate and proper discussion of options through a scrutiny committee.

Greens will continue to push for a special Full Council meeting on welfare reform, but acknowledge  that an evidence-gathering session and debate through scrutiny would be a step forward.

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by Natalie Bennett

Some interesting, if disturbing, figures from today’s Camden housing summit. Across England and Wales the average house sale price is £160,000, but in Camden it is £596,000.

Camden council is the landlord for about 100,000 homes, and with other social landlords in total more than a third of the borough’s housing is owned by social landlords.

Private rentals provide about a quarter of the homes in the borough. In South Camden the average rental is £550/week, in the North £350.

Camden council has insulated about 70% of its cavity wall properties and aims to have completed work on 95% by the end of this year. Around 2,000 lofts have been insulted and 1,000 further identified for the treatment.

Officers say that given the age of homes, the best average energy efficiency standard may be C, although new homes should be “near A”. The biggest challenge by far is solid wall installation. The current average is Band D, 65.4.

A workshop debate on priorities for spending put decoration and repairs to communal areas highly, and downgraded from its current priorities work on kitchens and bathrooms.

Camden Council is currently conducting a consultation entitled Is  A Council Home for Life? We’d urge all Camden residents to have their say – and answer in the affirmative.

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by Natalie Bennett

Report from tonight’s London Federation of Green Parties London’s Housing Crisis meeting

Dave Smith from London Citizens told us about East London Community Land Trust and its plans for the St Clement Hospital site in Mile End, which hope to provide permanent affordably housing for the community. He said the chief threat to the project lay in the government’s refusal to recognise the public good it would deliver – the trust would have to compete against private developers on the open market to buy it.

He explained that with all of the talk now about “affordable housing”, London Citizens was conducting comunity research to consider: “what does affordable mean in terms of housing?” Olympics construction was supposed to provide 35% affordable housing, but this was defined in part in terms of local market prices, while his group was trying to synthesise a new definition, working from what people can afford to pay. (Based on the same principles as the London Living Wage.)

Robert Taylor from the Camden Federation of Private Tenants set out the changing balance of housing. Now 70% of households own, while 30% rent, but after the Second World War 90% rented. London has the highest proportion of private rented accommodation – 690.000 households, or 20.2%. The England average is 12.2%. Those are 2009 figures; they would now be higher.

There was a lot of talk of a new category of private tenants,’generation rent’ – who can’t afford to buy. “This is being seen as negative thing, but it should be seen as positive. There needs to be a culture shift that final end of “housing journey” can be renting.”

One problem in the sector, he said, was that it was functioning as a “cottage industry” – in 2006 73% of properties were owned by individuals and couples, who typically owned 1-4 properties. Standards could be lot more professional.

Unlike the situation in the past, when tenants had mostly dealt directly with owners, now 60-70% of lets were via agents, who frequently charged large admin fees to tenants. Again regulation was needed.

But the biggest issues now were short-term insecurity, with tenants always at risk of being tossed out of their home on two months’ notice, and rent inflation, which was now 8-10%, reflecting an imbalance between supply and demand. Four tenants are seeking every property. “Choice doesnt exist in private rental sector.” Robert suggested that tenants should acquire more rights as the tenancy continued – this could benefit both sides of the transaction as landlords frequently complained they wanted more stability in tenancies.

Rachel Orr from Shelter said that the government had replaced social rented housing with “affordable model”, with rents set at 80% market rate. “The government won’t subsidise assets but individuals through housing benefit.” Local authorities were placing homeless people into private sector housing, but it was itself a huge cause of homelessness.

She said huge cuts were coming that would create a housing crisis. A quarter hostels in London would have to cut hugely or close in coming years, and cuts legal aid had been proposed that meant tenants would only be able to get help when faced with imminent homelesness, not when problems first arose.

There was a huge problem in a change in approach. Housing was seen as one of pillars of welfare state, with the others being education and health. The last two were regarded still as essential public provisions, but people generally saw housing as an individual not a collective problem.

“We need to shift public perception. Everyone knows about university tuition feeds and the threats to the NHS, but I dont think people understand that massive changes are coming in housing, particularly for low-income households.”
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* London’s Housing Crisis: An open meeting hosted by the Green Party
Thursday 16th June, 7-9pm, Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, Holborn. All welcome

London faces a chronic housing shortage, with hundreds of thousands of families on council waiting lists – and more than 6,000 council properties standing empty. Also rents are climbing, and a recent survey showed those hoping to buy do not expect to do so until they are 38. Where do we go from here? What is to be done to help renters and first-time buyers, and stop buy-to-let landlords cashing in?

Speakers: Rachel Orr – Shelter; Dave Smith – London Citizens; Katy John – Priced Out; Robert Taylor – Camden Federation of Private Tenants
Chair – Alastair Milne – West Central London Green Party

Also
* Environmental Films at Open City London Film Festival, Friday, June 17, from 6.15pm at Torrington Place, Bloomsbury. More.

* Join Transition Belsize, Transition Primrose Hill and other local groups and churches for a Midsummer Picnic to celebrate the summer solstice. Bring local homemade food to share on Sunday 19 June at Primrose Hill, More details at http://www.transitionprimrosehill.org

* Camden Abu Dis Friendship Association: Environment and Human Rights Day on Saturday 25th June – open to all in the morning, youth focus (workshops) in the afternoon. More

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by Natalie Bennett

Two excellent speakers yesterday at the Camden Green Party members’ meeting, Grace Livingstone, tenant activist at Holly Lodge, and Robert Taylor of the Camden Federation of Private Tenants.

One foci of the discussion was the coming changes in housing benefit. Grace said that we were facing homelessness and insecurity on a scale not seen in our lifetimes, with the poorest and most isolated most vulnerable. A campaign of vilification that sought to brand all benefit recipients as “scroungers” was making people even more reluctant to come forward and make their case, yet more than 90% of recipients in Camden are in work, being in private rental housing with high rents. “The obvious solutions are either to put a cap on rent, or to provide more social housing.” (The facts behind a celebrated case of demonisation were highlighted by Camden member Alan Wheatley.)

In a report dated September 2010, Camden Council stated that out of 29,485 Housing Benefit claimants, 3,135 people claimed Local Housing Allowance (LHA) and the changes will affect 2,241 of these who live in private rented homes.

The housing benefit will be reduced to the 30th percentile of average local rents (from the 50th). There will be a cap on total benefits that would, Robert said, hit households south of the Euston Road particularly hard. (The limits will be 1 bed £250, 2 bed £290, 3 bed £340, 4 bed £400 = maximum for any size of property.) Also the single home rate (rather than payment for a room in a shared house) will start at age 35, not 25, as it does now. Additionally, while rental inflation is now 8-10%, housing benefit will only raise by the CPI rate, usually 2-3%.

The reductions have begun now for new claimants, and will start to effect existing claimants from January 2012 (hitting people on the anniversary of their claim). Then from October 2017 the benefit is planned to be rolled into the new “universal credit” – and will be determined centrally, rather than by council.

Another key issue in the discussion were planned changes to council housing that would make council tenancies almost as insecure and uncertain as private rentals, allowing rental terms of just two years, and allowing only people most in need to even join the waiting list.

Grace said: “This is further stigmatising council tenants. The coalition – and Labour also did it too – like to talk about tenants as ‘the underclass’. One MP likes to say that 70% of council tenants are unemployed, but in fact more than half of those are pensioners, about 35% of the total. Of the remainder, one third are unemployed, but a lot of those are disabled people and carers; only 6% are on Job Seekers’ Allowance.”

The current Localism Bill, before parliament, allows councils to only have two-year tenancies for their housing, but it will be up to councils to decide if they want to use the provision. Cambridge and Islington councils have already pledged not to, and Grace said she very much hoped Camden would do the same. “One urgent task is to let the public know what impact these changes will have.”
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