If Conservative London mayoral hopeful Daniel Korski thinks Hackney Council has been “really reluctant to do any kind of development”, as he said during the first Tory candidate hustings, at least we now know that his understanding of Hackney is just as flawed as his ideas for addressing London’s housing crisis.
Over the last decade, Hackney Council and innovative London boroughs like it have been tackling the acute housing shortage head on during a period of government-imposed austerity which has seen affordable housing grants cut, rent levels rocket and the gap between welfare support and real housing costs widen almost every year since 2010.
In that time Hackney’s pioneering housebuilding programme has transformed council land in dozens of locations throughout the borough into genuinely affordable, often award-winning council homes, self-funded and delivered without private developers or government support.
In that time we have directly delivered over 1,500 homes, half of which were genuinely affordable, alongside two new schools and a multi-award winning leisure centre. With support now in place from the Mayor of London, this approach will help us deliver 1,000 new social rent homes in Hackney by 2026.
Turning to regeneration and Korski’s reference to low rise council housing, in Hackney we are fearless in our defence of social housing and the communities who live in it in our borough. We are proud that, according to the last Census, we have the highest number of households living in social housing in the country – over 40 per cent.
There is a real risk Korski’s remarks seek to take us back to a “sink estates” or crude demolition narrative that sees our estates as “brownfield” land for exploitation rather than places with flourishing communities.
That doesn’t mean we don’t think regeneration can be a solution. Our Woodberry Down partnership is seeing the number of new homes at one of the UK’s largest regeneration projects more than double, with every council tenant getting a high-quality new social rent home in place of properties that no longer meet modern standards. By the end of the programme it will see over 5,500 new homes and high-quality community infrastructure and transformed public spaces.
And work alongside the London Legacy Development Corporation is seeing thousands of new homes built in Hackney in and around the Olympic Park – the heart of what Korski called the “docklands arc” – with our own influence maximising the proportion of genuinely affordable homes and protecting what is most valued locally, such as Hackney Wick’s creative community.
It is also disappointing to see Korski attempting to drive a wedge between inner and outer London when we need all parts of the capital to deliver the homes that London and Londoners need.
I wonder if it is partly an attempt to deflect attention from the dreadful housing delivery record of outer London Conservative boroughs and disgraceful recent Tory campaigns to defend car parks near Tube stations to prevent new affordable housing being built on them. It can’t be right that boroughs like Hackney, which deliver on our housing targets, are asked to do even more when so many others fail and lack our ambition.
Let’s not forget that a major factor driving the housing crisis is that housing benefit simply does not meet the true cost of housing in Hackney and London more widely. This is why many people cannot afford to live in the capital and are being pushed out of it.
In Hackney, the maximum housing benefit payment for a two-bed flat is £1,585 per month, yet the average rent for such a property is £2,600 per month – a shortfall of over £1000.
If the Tory hopeful was serious about affordable housing, he’d be calling for his own party in government to invest more in social housing, get rid of the benefit cap and increase Local Housing Allowance to reflect reality. he would also be echoing our own and Sadiq Khan’s call for private sector rent controls.
It is true that – with the right support – we and our partners could do so much more. But if the housing crisis in Hackney and the capital as a whole is worse than ever, it is caused not by the reluctance of councils to build, but the ongoing lack of funding, flexibility and political will from central government.
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