Ambitious five year strategy to tackle the housing crisis in Newham and ensure fairness

Last night (Tuesday 8 September 2020) Newham Council Cabinet approved a proposal to consult residents on a draft Housing Delivery Strategy for the borough. 

The strategy sets out the scale of the housing challenge in Newham and the Council’s ambitions for the next five years to tackle the crisis of housing affordability, insecurity and need.

Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz said: “We know the scale of investment required is massive – both for building new homes and bringing existing homes up to standard, but in the face of the crisis facing our borough, we’ll continue prioritising housing delivery as we scale up our plans and meet promised targets. The housing strategy is another crucial milestone in our efforts to drive forward through all the instruments of the Council to deliver for local residents.

“But if we are going to achieve our long-term vision – we will need the Government to step up and make radical changes to national policy. It must properly fund and support affordable housebuilding programmes. It must tighten up the regulation of the private rented sector giving greater legal protection and rights to tenants. There must be reform of the universal credit and welfare system – so that it properly and adequately supports residents to secure decent and affordable homes. And lastly the government must reform ‘right to buy’ legislation which has seen Newham lose 9,000 homes over the last 25 years, with 47 per cent of Council homes sold under right to buy in Newham “flipped” to be rented out in the private sector”

Since May 2018, there have been a number of significant milestones achieved on the Mayor’s manifesto commitments on housing delivery. Populo Living (formerly Red Door Ventures), the Council’s wholly owned housing delivery company has already been repurposed so that 50% of its output is genuinely affordable housing at social rent levels.

The commitment to start 1000 new social rent homes by 2022 is on track through the ‘Affordable Homes for Newham’ programme and there are currently 1056 in the pipeline. In addition, the Mayor committed to start building at least 100 new homes at social rent by the end of her first year in office, and this promise was exceeded with a total of 234 started by May 2019. The Council also bid for and secured £107m of affordable housing grant from the Mayor of London, representing the highest allocation to any borough in the Capital, and a reflection of the confidence the Mayor of London and GLA have in Newham’s ability to deliver. Newham is programmed to start 275 new homes before March 2021 and will deliver over 1000 starts by March 2022.

Delivery of new housing in Newham is accelerating, and the strategy will also help the Council meet its Climate Emergency commitments to radically address carbon emissions and fuel poverty including new Private Rented Sector programmes to boost energy efficiency. The borough has the second highest number of new homes being delivered of any in London, with 2,678 delivered over 2018/19.

The Council is also committed to challenge developers and partners to ensure that as they deliver new properties, plans include the genuinely affordable homes that Newham residents need, as well as homes for families with children or multi-generational households. The strategy also includes changes to improve the Council’s Private Sector Licensing Scheme, with the establishment of a new ‘tenants’ rights service’ to protect residents from the scourge of bad landlords.

Before adopting the Strategy it is important to ensure that it fully reflects the views of all residents in Newham, including council tenants and leaseholders. The Council will, therefore plan to undertake a programme of consultation over the next 3 months, beginning as soon as possible after Cabinet approval.

Under the strategy the Council is developing a resident involvement strategy, which will set out the housing service’s new residents-first approach. Housing services are creating more opportunities for residents to discuss housing issues face-to-face through housing hubs, housing liaison officers, and regular tenant and leaseholder forums.

The Council’s response to homelessness and rough sleeping will be caring and compassionate, and across our regeneration programmes residents will be involved in co-production to ensure their views and concerns are taken into account.

The housing which the Council delivers will meet a range of needs, which means striking a balance between the government’s agenda and what the market brings forward, and what residents needs and what works for Newham. Evidence will be a big part of this and the combined Strategic Housing Market Assessment and Housing Needs Assessment (SHMA) will inform much of the forthcoming planning.

As well as considering the needs of families, groups whose housing needs and aspirations must be considered as part of this approach include:

  • Multigenerational families
  • Gypsies, Roma and Travellers
  • People with disabilities and special needs
  • Groups considering self-build
  • Children leaving care
  • Key workers
  • Multi-family sharers
  • Older people

Newham has also embarked on a massive programme to upgrade its housing stock to make it safe and environmentally sustainable – starting with a comprehensive stock condition survey and allocating £96m to a three year maintenance programme.

Mayor Fiaz said: “Covid-19 has brought the Borough’s housing challenges into stark relief. The mortality rate in Newham is the second highest in the country, and housing is an important contributing factor. Specifically, the high levels of overcrowding and large numbers of houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) are likely factors contributing to the profound impact of Covid-19 on the Borough, which has a large BAME population and pre-existing areas of high deprivation.

“This strategy is incredibly ambitious, and I make no apologies for that, we face an enormous challenge in the face of a broken housing system, a post-COVID19 recession and the continued under-funding of local authorities like Newham. But in this document we have set out not only our aspirations, but also the improvements we are actually delivering for our residents.

“Our commitment will not waiver, residents should have access to homes fit for human habitation and housing that they can afford. They should be treated fairly as a private or social renter and tenant, with security and good quality homes that promote health and wellbeing.”

The proposed Housing strategy reflects the massive challenges on housing faced by Newham residents including: 

  • Rising rent levels and house prices which has made most housing unaffordable, and placed a huge financial burden on households
  • A growing Private Rented Sector (PRS), often characterised by poor quality and insecure housing for families
  • A large and growing problem of homelessness – including both families in temporary accommodation and people on the streets; 
  • A Council house sector that has been undermined over the long term by the right to buy and under-investment;

The Council, which has UK's most severe housing crisis, also has plans - subject to a separate consultation with residents - to overhaul its allocations policy with an increased focus on need and alleviating severe overcrowding.  Last night Cabinet members agreed to consult with residents and other stakeholders on a proposed new policy for deciding which households are given social housing.

The Council’s current system, which has been in place since 2012, "de facto prioritises those in employment" leading to too many residents languishing for housing in overcrowded, insecure or inadequate housing despite their acute need. The new proposals will move to an approach putting "those in highest need" first. Under the new policy, a bidding advantage given to households in work will be removed, and greater priority given to those facing severe overcrowding.

Cllr John Gray, cabinet member for Housing said: “We want a system which looks fairly at those in the greatest housing need. We are at the sharp end of the deep national housing crisis, with over 27,000 currently on the housing list, and over 5,000 currently in temporary accommodation. This is why, in addition to building more homes, we have to review our allocations policy to make sure it is fit for purpose.

“This strategy commits Newham Council to doing all it can to deliver on decent, affordable and local homes for residents, especially as we face the inevitable post-COVID recession, increasing unemployment, and a potential surge in evictions from the private rented sector. The government must now accept its responsibility to support those communities most affected by the pandemic, and start a genuine programme of affordable house building for those most vulnerable to sickness, economic hardship and inequality.”

Newham has already adopted and is starting to implement a new two-year Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Strategy agreed by cabinet in December 2019 this includes a renewed focus on prevention, reducing the numbers in temporary accommodation, a new approach to rough sleeping and a specific plan around Stratford Centre.

Published: 09 Sep 2020