Lambeth has over 24,000 council homes and an investment programme of almost half a billion pounds in improving those homes: new windows, new roofs, new kitchens and bathrooms, making homes and estates places of pride. But because of government cuts we don't have nearly enough money to improve every home.
In fact, Lambeth is at least £85m short of what's needed and there's no more money from central government. The government also put a limit on how much councils can borrow for refurbishment of homes and they've also just introduced changes that will cut another £30m from Lambeth’s housing budget in the next four years.
That means that Lambeth has a choice: to leave some tenants in homes that are dilapidated, with no prospect of refurbishment, and for the tenants: little to no hope of being able to move elsewhere, or to access money from elsewhere, by building more homes and using the money raised to rebuild homes for council tenants that are fit for purpose and a great place to call home. That's what Lambeth is doing through estate regeneration: rebuilding homes for our tenants and increasing the number of homes for local people to fulfil Labour’s pledge for 1000 extra homes for council rent for local families.
But you might not think that given some of what's written about what Lambeth is doing – so I want to take on the myths, rumours and out and out lies that are being put around about Cressingham Gardens.
First, Lambeth isn't selling the estate, it's not kicking anybody out, and it’s not forcing anyone away.
Secondly, faced with a major budget crisis: the council doesn't have the money to refurbish extremely dilapidated homes, we’re £85,000,000 short of what we need to refurbish every home in the borough. So we have a choice: leave tenants in damp, mouldy, leaky, dilapidated homes with no chance of refurbishment, or build them an entirely new home.
Thirdly, unlike a lot of estate regeneration that's happened across London this will be a council-controlled project. No private developer will be involved, the council will have control throughout.
Fourthly, and again unlike a lot of estate regeneration that's happening across London, this will see no loss whatsoever of social housing. Lambeth is a Labour council elected on a pledge to build 1000 extra homes for council rent. Some of those extra homes will be built at Cressingham.
This means that all existing tenants get a new home, built to high standards, designed to meet their needs and their aspirations for a new exemplary estate. Those homes will have enough bedrooms so that no family on the new estate will be overcrowded, against a quarter of existing tenants who say they are overcrowded on the existing estate.
It means all replacement homes for tenants will be at council rent levels, set according to the same strict government guidelines as the rest of the council’s homes – meaning rents at about 30-35% of the going market rate. Homes will also come with a lifetime tenancy so that people can live in their new homes for the rest of their lives.
To pay for replacement homes we need additional homes. Lambeth has had huge cuts in its funding over the last few years and there is now no grant for new council housing from central government.
So at Cressingham we will build an extra 158 homes, 47% of them affordable - that's in excess of Lambeth’s planning policy and well above what private developers propose for what they're building. The remainder will be a mix of private rent and private sale to subsidise the new affordable housing, with no government money this has to stack up on its own merit. But by excluding private developers we prevent them taking a whacking great profit which then means we can boost the number of genuinely affordable homes for local people.
This means 75 extra homes for some of the 21000 families on Lambeth’s waiting list, it means at least 27 family-sized homes at council rent to help some of the 1800 families, including almost 5000 children who are homeless and in temporary accommodation.
That's no a silver bullet for the housing crisis, but nobody expects all the homes we need to be built in one place all at once. What this does represent is progress, in building homes for local people so that they can stay living in Lambeth rather than being forced out by rising rents and house prices.
So that's it: faced with a lack of money for refurbishment, a shortfall of £85m, and government blocks on borrowing more for repair we've chosen to stick to our commitment for a decent home for every Lambeth tenant by building them new homes. Faced with a housing crisis that leads to thousands of Lambeth families living on the brink, we’re choosing to build more homes, more affordable homes and more homes for council rent despite the government's attack on social housing in the Housing and Planning Bill.
Tough choices but the right choices.
Councillor Matthew Bennett, Cabinet Member for Housing