Revealed: The number of council homes lost through Right to Buy
PUBLISHED: 09:00 02 August 2018
Town hall leader Darren Rodwell sets out his ambitious plans for 60,000 new homes in the borough - and admits: 'My parents' might have thought twice about buying their council house if they had realised the consequences.'
EMMA YOULE reports for our Hidden Homeless series.
Town hall leader Darren Rodwell sets out his ambitious plans for 60,000 new homes in the borough - and admits: ‘My parents’ might have thought twice about buying their council house if they had realised the consequences.’ EMMA YOULE reports for our Hidden Homeless series.
The looming 1960s tower blocks of the Gascoigne Estate in Barking are undergoing a major image makeover.
A decade ago the council estate was synonymous with deprivation, but today it’s been renamed the Weavers Quarter, a new vision for the future.
The striking development will deliver 1,575 new homes, a community centre and a new school when complete – a pin-up for urban regeneration.
It is one of a host of projects the council is spearheading under its wholly-owned housing company, set up in 2012 to meet ambitious plans to bring 60,000 new homes to Barking and Dagenham in the next 20 years.
“It’s what I call the new council housing for the 21st century,” says council leader Darren Rodwell.
“By which I mean we are operating in the private sector but we still hold the values of the public sector in it, to build community and build aspiration.”
"As it stands we’ve lost over half our council stock to Right to Buy and the majority have gone to buy to let landlords. Swathes of council stock has been lost to landlords who are making “profits out of people”"
Things have changed in the 25 years since the Labour councillor was a single parent and unable to get a council flat due to soaring demand. The housing crisis has got even worse.
He grew up on the Becontree Estate, the borough’s gargantuan council development built to meet housing needs post First World War.
Like many, his parents bought their council house on the Becontree - buying into “the great home ownership dream” the council leader says.
But it was a dream with consequences.
Since Right to Buy was introduced in the 1980s, Barking and Dagenham has lost 48,500 council units to the sell-off.
“As it stands we’ve lost over half our council stock to Right to Buy,” says Cllr Rodwell. “And the majority have gone to buy to let landlords.
“We perceive that we have something in the region of about 18,000 or 19,000 buy to let landlords in the borough. In one ward alone, Abbey ward which I represent, we reckon it’s around 75 per cent of those properties.”
Swathes of council stock has been lost to landlords who are making “profits out of people” says Cllr Rodwell. “Money is just going into landlords’ pockets.”
Meanwhile more than 5,600 people are on the housing register, 1,876 homeless households are living in temporary flats and hostels.
Another 1,122 people were moved out of the borough in the five years to 2017 due to housing shortages.
Misconceptions about who is living in former council flats – and who places them there – have also stoked immigration anger and community tensions in the borough, the council leader says.
The desperate need for homes has also forced councils into competition with each other as they seek cheaper homes outside their own boroughs.
Two years ago, the Labour council leader had a public spat with Conservative-led Westminster Council over it buying up £9million of housing in Barking and Dagenham to move its homeless families into.
But now he faces similar accusations.
The council has moved at least 1,122 out of the borough since 2012, with 30 per cent placed out of London altogether in areas such as Thurrock and Basildon.
Cllr Rodwell says the council simply has no choice and was one of the last in London to take the difficult decision to do this.
But he admits he is in talks about moving people to places outside the M25 in the future, to “areas of deprivation where they could do with the investment”.
The council leader’s broader vision is for an affordable housing revolution for “aspirational working class residents” in Barking and Dagenham.
He aims to build 60,000 new homes in the next 20 years – touting projects with sparkly names such as “mini-Manhattan” and the “Roding Riviera”.
Other ideas include moving the A13 underground and building 16,000 homes; constructing 12,000 homes at Barking Riverside; and 3,000 at the Ford Stamping Plant in Dagenham.
Critics have questioned whether the “new council housing” is really council housing at all.
Opponents of the Gascoigne estate regeneration say land designated for social housing should not fall under private control, with flats that local people cannot afford.
But the council leader staunchly defends the model, saying rents are affordable for people earning the London Living Wage and aimed at working class people.
Under the model, properties are available to people in employment who can’t afford to buy or rent privately, at 65 to 80 per cent below market rate.
People can also buy up to 70 per cent of their property under shared ownership, with the option to sell back to the council at any time.
The Labour council leader believes councils have a role to play in helping people towards property ownership - tempered by caution over the housing lessons of the last decades.
“If my grandparents and parents would have known what we know today, I’m not sure they would have been into the mad rush of Right to Buy and the dream that was sold then,” he said. “Because really what that’s done is destroy communities.”
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