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Paying for 'Affordable' Housing

London, according to the housing minister Yvette Cooper, has a shortage of 20,000 three-bedroom homes.

So it is welcome that this week Cooper has announced new planning policies to oblige local authorities to ensure the provision of family homes, and to demand open space for children in new developments. In so doing, she also acknowledges another truth, which is that actions so far to provide decent affordable housing in London are failing.

The main method by which affordable housing is created in London is through something called planning gain, which demands that developers of housing for sale, in return for receiving planning permission, should also provide a proportion of homes to be let to deserving and needy people by housing associations, at reduced rents, or part sold under shared equity schemes.

Under the urging of the Mayor of London, the target for this proportion has risen to 50% yet, even though property development is bubbling like an overheated cauldron, and new affordable homes are indeed being built, little impression is being made on the shortage. Last year the number of affordable homes in London actually fell, thanks to the sale of right-to-buy council homes, which took more homes out of the system than were replaced by new ones.

Those that have been built have largely been small flats, this being the easiest way for developers to meet the demand for large numbers of units. They are also planned, designed and built according to the caprice of the property business, rather than any idea of what might be best for their residents.

Thus we now see the increasingly bizarre sight of affordable housing blocks, designed to a lower specification-than their market-price equivalents, tucked humbly behind swanky riverside developments in Battersea and Chelsea. We also see, especially in east London, towers of tiny stacked-up flats rise sheer from the grotty pavements of blasted streets. Although planning policy now calls for good design and highquality public places, there is little evidence of this on the street.

Driven by mindboggling statistics about housing need, quantity has trumped quality. Flats are piled high and sold expensive, and the environment is debased for all.

Politicians have been too intent on sheer numbers to worry much whether the right kinds of homes were being provided, in the right places, or designed in the right way.

From: Way out of the property crisis, Rowan Moore, Evening Standard, 1 12 06

More at: Rowan Moore

See also: Olympic Housing Impacts

See also: Barcelona housing