Lambeth’s innovative approach to housing

Cross-posted from the London Labour Party blog.

Both supply and affordability pose big challenges for us in Lambeth, but we’re frustrated in our aims to provide new and affordable homes in the borough both by national policy and the Mayor of London. In particular, Boris Johnson’s plan to raise ‘affordable’ rent levels to 80% of market rents renders potential new homes unaffordable to most of the residents in need of housing in Lambeth.

Given what we’re up against, we’re having to develop new and innovative approaches to provide the kind of housing we want, and that our residents need. Key to this is keeping the community at the heart of what we do. Our exciting new project for Somerleyton Road in Brixton is a case in point. The project has brought together more than 400 local people, and is a partnership between Brixton Green (a community organisation), Ovalhouse (a community-run theatre) and Lambeth Council. Responding to what the local community told us they wanted, the project will bring new homes, work space, a theatre and possibly health and education facilities. The project will also guarantee employment and training opportunities for local people.

Lambeth Council will act as our own developer for the site, employing specialists to manage the design and build. In terms of providing new homes, this means we have more control over what we build, the types of tenure on offer, and the levels of rent set – we’re aiming for at least 40% of the homes to be set at council rent. This is a new and exciting model of working for Lambeth and a key example of our cooperative approach.

Another concern for us is that we don’t want families to be priced out of the borough as their households begin to grow. That’s why we were really pleased recently to gain agreement to create affordable family homes at Vauxhall City Farm in Zone 1. The original proposal from developers, St James, was for 14 small shared ownership homes on a site which is part of the wider regeneration of the Vauxhall area. However, through negotiation, we will now get eight larger homes for social rent, with more overall rooms. Furthermore, associated improvements to the farm, which welcomes over 20,000 visitors a year, will mean more learning and office space and a slight increase in land. This is another example of what imagination, collaboration and pragmatism can achieve; looking beyond the headline figure on affordable housing to the quality and type of homes that will be provided for local people.

However, in Lambeth we are not just committed to providing new homes, but also ensuring that the ones we do have are of a standard that means they can remain part of our stock for generations to come. That’s why we have created the Lambeth Homes Standard, which was developed in conjunction with residents and leaseholders. We are now investing £443m over the next four years to bring all our council-owned homes up to this standard.

Given the growing number of private renters in Lambeth, we are also committed to tackling the private rented sector, where rents and charges are soaring and rogue landlords are flourishing as demand grows. By working with other boroughs we will seek to find the most pragmatic way forward.

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