Since the current administration was re-elected with a manifesto pledge in 2014 of building 11,000 council homes by 2043, the News has printed numerous stories on how they are getting on with that target.
Last week, a report from the council admits that it will fail to hit the 1,500 mark by 2018, with 400 in total being built in that time and a further 300 the following year. However, the cabinet member responsible remains confident that the lessons they are learning will ensure the 2043 target will be hit.
It is always a struggle to present the sea of differing figures in black and white, among the mud-slinging between the Southwark Liberal Democrats in opposition and the Labour-run council. And as we approach yet another election, in the next few weeks even more figures will be banded about by both parties.
Despite politicians often looking at the same questions and coming up with different answers, both parties can agree that there are not enough council homes and we desperately need more.
It’s a London-wide crisis and there are no short-term quick fixes.
So credit where credit is due – the borough’s commitment is ambitious and having a target is something that local people can measure. By publishing the figures we are able to see whether this is achievable.
The council figures include homes being built from scratch and other ‘hidden homes’ converted from disused property on council estates like garages and store rooms.
Meanwhile hundreds of council homes have been sold and hundreds more demolished, while the local authorities are dealing with Tory government cuts to new homes funding, caps on borrowing which stop them building their own new homes and an incentivised Right to Buy scheme which forces the council to sell its stock to tenants.
And in the midst of all this, confusion reigns over the thousands of ‘affordable homes’ that have been built in the borough.
The term ‘affordable’ is often confused with social or target rent (perhaps intentionally sometimes) so here is the basic difference – social rent is normally set at around 30-40 percent of market rents levels but is also linked to earnings, making it more stable than properties simply linked to the ever-ballooning rental market. ‘Affordable’ units are set at anything up to 80 percent of market rents – which means they can be completely unaffordable in London’s overheated housing bubble.
The council has said up to 49 percent of affordable homes in Southwark have been set at genuine social rent levels by their Housing Association owners. This is good news, no doubt about that – these properties will actually be what they say on the tin – affordable.
As they are not council owned, however, there is no obligation for housing associations to keep the rent levels low (although on developments the council is directly involved in like the Aylesbury, social rents are secured for 250 years).