At one of the first resident workshops that I attended on Cressingham Gardens I met an elderly couple who live in a council home. They told me that they were among the first people to move onto the estate, with their children, over thirty-five years ago. Before they moved to Cressingham they were living near the top of a tower block in an overcrowded flat. They spoke movingly about the way that moving into a new home that was large enough for their needs completely changed their lives for the better. Across Lambeth we have thousands of families who are now in the same situation; for every family in one of our council homes in this borough, there’s someone else on our waiting list. The average waiting time for a two-bedroom home for someone in high-priority is between five and eight years. Everyone has started talking about the Housing Crisis; in Lambeth too many people are living it.
Over the last five years the number of new homes being built at council rent levels has plummeted in this country. First the Tory and Liberal government slashed the funding for new social homes, then they introduced so-called ‘Affordable’ rent at 80% of the market. In London this is totally unaffordable for people needing a council property. The market rent for a two-bed in central Brixton is about £350 a week, the average council rent in the borough is £109. It’s in the gap between these two rent levels that the housing crisis finds its victims and in Lambeth we’ve seen the number of homeless families in temporary accommodation rise from around 1300 last year to over 1800 today.
That’s why we stood for election last year on an ambitious pledge to build 1000 extra homes for council rent in the borough. This is more than have been built in a generation. If the government and the mayor of London won’t build, we won’t stand on the side-lines and watch the housing crisis get worse.
We’re looking at every available scrap of council land in the borough. On Somerleyton Road in Brixton we’re working with local residents to establish a housing co-op to manage over 300 new homes, with a mix of council, intermediate and private rented properties, building a sustainable mixed community in an area rapidly becoming unaffordable. But there is very little spare land in a borough like Lambeth. Instead we have to look to our estates, many of which were built at a time when London’s population was much lower than it is today and was continuing to fall. Many estates are built to a low-density and we know we could increase the number of homes for council rent and help more families escape the grip of the housing crisis.
On Cressingham Gardens we’ve been consulting with residents for two years. First, on the cost of refurbishing the estate as part of a borough-wide £490m investment programme to bring homes up to the Lambeth Housing Standard, and second on increasing the number of homes. We’ve worked with residents on the costings of refurbishment and even on the most conservative and optimistic forecast it would cost three times what the council can afford just to refurbish existing homes. And that won’t do anything to address the housing crisis we face.
Instead we will work with residents on plans to regenerate the estate. This will be a council development; the estate will not be sold to a private developer and all residents, whether tenants or homeowners will have the right to remain on the estate with options tailored to their needs. Tenants will have the right to a new home, at council rents, for their lifetime; resident homeowners will have the ability to buy a new home, or to take up a shared equity or shared ownership option if that better suits their finances.
We have the opportunity at Cressingham Gardens to build a new estate, fit for its time, giving families who are badly housed today the same chance at a new home as the couple I met on the estate last autumn did some thirty years ago. Given the scale of the housing crisis we face, it’s an opportunity that we must take.
Cllr Matthew Bennett
Cabinet Member for Housing