New Era estate residents consider proposals for means-tested rent

New Era Estate Hoxton

The New Era estate in Hoxton. Photograph: Hackney Citizen

Residents of the New Era housing estate in Hoxton could be means-tested in an attempt to keep rents affordable for the lowest-income residents.

The new Robin Hood style of rent management proposed could mean that the richest residents of the estate would be helping to prop up the poorest.

This strategy has been suggested by new owners, Dolphin Square Foundation, to help to ensure the long-term future of the community on the New Era estate .

New Era was at the centre of a widespread campaign last year, after US property investors Westbrook Partners attempted to triple rents, threatening hundreds of residents with eviction.

The campaign against Westbrook was successful, and the property was sold to Dolphin, a housing charity, last December.

Lindsey Garrett, who has lived on the estate for 22-years and co-led the campaign against Westbrook believes that Dolphin’s proposals seem reasonable.

She said: “There’s an element of it that does sound fair, it’s very difficult to argue against.”

However she added, “We haven’t agreed on anything, and we’re certainly not going to agree on something that the majority don’t support.

“What we don’t want to happen is for it to cause divides and conflicts on the estate. If it’s not suitable for the majority then we won’t go for it.”

Investment needed

Rent for homes on the estate has generally been low, and Dolphin has said that this is not going to change under their management.

“Their rents are typically on 50% of market rent, because they’ve historically had a landlord who went for a laissez-faire approach. They didn’t invest in the estate, didn’t do anything for the tenants, but equally didn’t put their rents up,” said Jon Gooding, CEO of Dolphin.

“The estate needs quite a lot of new investment and we as a charity have obviously got a lot of capital tied up in it.

“The residents see this as trying to come up with a model that actually could be an example for other similar situations and estates in London, and in a way we’re just emulating what the benefits system does”.

Gooding said that while nobody will be forced into agreeing to the proposal, the incentive to join the system would be that the default rent would be set at a higher rate.

Nevertheless, he said that while they are happy to have media interest on the rent proposal “inevitably I think some of the media coverage has attempted to suggest that this is a much more developed concept than it really is.”

Alex Hilton, Director of affordable housing campaign group Generation Rent, said that while the system that Dolphin are proposing may work for them, it cannot be an exemplar for other estates in London.

He said: “If it works for the New Era estate that’s fine, but it sounds like there’s going to be an incentive whenever there’s a vacancy to get a higher paying tenant in, both for the landlord and the tenants.

If that helps the people that are there now then that’s great, but it is an indication of the wider housing market problems – basically that less well off people are gentrified out of existence, socially cleansed from their home communities.”

Dolphin are still in discussion with New Era residents about the rent policy, and the rent proposal for the estate is expected to be drawn up by next April.