Councillors have expressed bitter disappointment at housing figures that lay bare the borough’s “poor performance” in delivering socially rented homes – including a year in which the borough saw only a single new one.
According to statistics for new housing in the borough – through both council and private developments – the council came close to hitting its five-year target of 7,995 homes between 2015 and 2019.
However, over 5,200 of these were at market rates, while just 227 were for social rent.
In 2019, just one socially rented home was successfully delivered.
Cllr Clare Joseph said: “We say we have the aim of ensuring that housing needs of Hackney’s residents are met in a sustainable way. Then we say that new housing growth is broadly in line with the aims of the core strategy.
“But I was very disappointed looking at these figures. In 2019 we only managed one additional social rent property. Only 227 over five years. That is compared to 5,264 market rent in the same time period.
“We all know the benefits of council housing. There are economic benefits for everyone. It helps push down the private rent, helps reduce housing benefit bills – it is important we get that figure up.
“Do we need a stricter policy on the amount of affordable housing that we are willing to accept in any development?”
According to the Town Hall’s strategic planning manager Karol Jakubczyk, reasons for the low figures include a number of development proposals either being held back or accelerated in order to avoid paying more money in Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) to City Hall, with that “creative process resulting in an impact on our statistics”.
Brexit uncertainty is also said to have caused delays for some schemes, with Jakubcyzk predicting further delays in the coming years because of pandemic restrictions.
The council officer said: “My colleagues and I did try to get to the bottom of why there was poor performance around affordable housing delivery during the reporting period. The response we got from colleagues in the growth team is there is no one single reason for this.
“There have been delays during the reporting period to some of the larger schemes that are coming forward across the borough, and it is very much the larger development schemes that are delivering the bulk of affordable housing, rather than the small scale stuff.
“Any delay that takes place on those larger sites will have an impact on our statistics. It is unfortunately as simple as that.”
In advice to councillors, the manager called on members on the planning committee to ensure that schemes coming forward for approval be as large as they can be in terms of numbers, adding: “The larger the scheme, the more certain that scheme will deliver that affordable housing.”
The statistics, shown to councillors at a recent corporate committee, are predicted to look better in forthcoming years as the Town Hall’s own housebuilding projects begin to bear fruit, officers maintained.
The figures show any social rent homes for that given financial year, less the loss of council or social rent homes on those same sites. For instance, if a site had 50 new social rent homes, but 48 were demolished to build it, this would represent two new net additional homes.
The report therefore shows the social rent homes built in any given year minus what has been lost and rebuilt in the past. For instance, Bridge House used to have 56 social rent homes, which were demolished around five years ago before the site was rebuilt with 28 of them, with the loss of these homes only showing up in later years.
The Bridge House and Marian Court redevelopment will overall see 80 social rent, eight Hackney Living Rent and 118 shared ownership homes, with 60 sold outright to help pay for them, as compared with the original 85 social rent and 50 leasehold properties.
Net housing delivery of all types of tenure over the five years has totalled 7,843 units, an average of 1,569 per year. According to the council, 2015 saw the “strongest delivery within the five years”.
That year, just under 2,500 homes were delivered against the London Plan target of 1,599. Of these, 1,223 were for market rent, 107 were intermediate homes which includes shared ownership, 45 were for ‘affordable’ rent, and 94 for social rent.
Social rent, the cheapest of all London rents, is based on a nationally set formula, while shared ownership represents 80 per cent of the market rate.
Just over 130 new social rented homes were successfully brought forward in Hackney between 2016 and 2018, after which 2019 saw just one net additional socially rented home delivered.
Between 2019 and 2024, the borough is hoping to see a delivery of a total of 7,917 homes of all types.
According to council planning policy officer Georgina Barretta, the Town Hall is trying to “squeeze” the private sector as well as its own land, with both council and private developments “struggling to bring forward the social rent [homes]”.
Barretta confirmed that figures for the last three years do not include Hackney Wick, with the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) still the monitoring body for that area ahead of a transition of powers in 2024.
Corporate committee chair Cllr Jessica Webb called for more transparency, saying: “I know that [Hackney councillor and LLDC planning committee member] Nick Sharman is on it and on them, but until they hand over these powers they are making these key decisions in the most major development we have seen since industrialisation, probably.”
Officers accepted that in future years a more substantive explanation of what is ‘affordable’ would be given, accepting that various definitions of the term could be “quite baffling”.
Cllr Peter Snell said: “Regarding affordable rent, can we have some clarification, because I should understand it, but I do get confused. Affordable rent, social rent, intermediate – which is which? We know we get any amount of stick at public meetings where people talk about affordable rents that no-one can afford.
“What [the figures] haven’t addressed is there is no mention of housing association housing, where that fits in, there was a reference to London living and Hackney living rent – are you saying that is affordable rent?
“Are we saying that that old headline figure of 80 per cent of market rents is no longer a part of the picture, and are you telling us that shared ownership is what comes under intermediate?”
Having been informed by officers that this was broadly the case, Snell added: “I think it’s absolutely essential for people to understand our housing policies and what we are able to achieve, because they get rubbished so often.
“Using these headings without stating exactly what they mean in terms of practical rent levels and if people can afford them just is not helpful, if even I struggle to understand where they all fit in.”
EDIT: This article was updated at 13:19 on 12/03/2021 to include wider context of the Bridge House and Marian Court redevelopment.