Tuesday, 17 April 2012

H&F Right to Buy roadshow: noone left behind?

Council housing tenants have been invited to a housing roadshow taking place this weekend to look at the possibility of their receiving extended help to buy their own homes. Residents may be eligible for a £75,000 discount on the price of their homes with the aim of bringing home ownership within reach of those for whom it would otherwise be unavailable.

This is a flagship policy for our Council, and of course marked a central theme of the Thatcher Government back in the 80s, and it poses problems for the Labour Party in opposition here. If they oppose it they will be accused, with some justification, of being against helping people to realise their ambitions of getting on to the property ladder. If they don't oppose it they will be attacked from their own ranks by people who regard this policy as a means of further diminishing the supply of rented social housing for those on low incomes. 

But those people might like to consider what happens to people who are trapped in a situation where they can't afford either to move out of their parents homes, or ever realise their own ambitions to get on. This was a very thoughtful analysis of a scheme in Shepherd's Bush last year that highlights the problem but also some of the solutions. 

It comes against the backdrop of several large scale housing developments approved by our Council which are characterised by luxury flats and definitely not social rented housing for those on low incomes. Back in July 2010 Inside Housing magazine portrayed what this meant for local people in Hammersmith

The first roadshow is this Saturday April 21, from 10am to 3pm, at H&F Advice, 145 King Street, W6 9XY.
Here, the Council's dedicated Home Buy team will calculate the discount that residents may be eligible for and answer questions about the process of buying their own home.

The roadshow will then visit the following locations:
  • Hammersmith Town Hall, Saturday May 5, 10am - 2pm, Small Hall, King Street, W6 9JU
  • White City Community Centre, Saturday May 19, 10am - 2pm, India Way, W12 7QT
Cllr Andrew Johnson, cabinet member for housing, said:

“The extended Right to Buy discount is truly fantastic news for anyone who has ever dreamt of purchasing their own home but never thought that it would be financially possible.

“There is absolutely no doubt that owning your own home gives you asense of pride and a sense of empowerment. However, for too long homeownership has been nothing but a pipedream for most of our tenants.

“Hammersmith & Fulham is a borough of housing opportunity with homeownership as its core. I would like to urge council tenants to visit the Right to Buy roadshow so that they can find out all the details and make an educated decision about whether the Right to Buy is the best thing for them."

Philip Gould, one of Tony Blair's closest political advisers, once wrote a book called the Unfinished Revolution, which became something of a bible for New Labourites in the late 1990s. In it he described how the Labour Party in the 80s had lost sight of the fact that most working class people actually aspired to be socially mobile and achieve more for themselves and their kids. Getting on the housing ladder is part of that, which is why it has always proved to be a very popular policy. Blair understood that, Brown didn't. 

So good luck to H&F residents who take advantage of this scheme - it's a good thing, and well done to the Council for pioneering it. But there will still be large numbers of people that this scheme does not reach, or who it is not right for - for example one of the conditions is that you must have lived at the same address for five years. So let's see a bit more detail about how the Council now plans to catch up on an area it has fallen behind on - the creation of more rented social housing for those that are increasingly priced out of our borough. The row over the numbers of social housing being created in the White City redevelopment sums this up. The Council tell me 40% of the homes will be social - but Labour point out that these will be existing units with people relocated, not new homes. 

And if you need help understanding why that's important - try talking to the next nurse who treats you in hospital, the young police constable answering your call or the new teacher who's just started at your kids school. They'll gladly explain.  

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