Cllr Andrew Johnson is the Cabinet Member for Housing on Hammersmith and Fulham Council
In Hammersmith and Fulham we firmly believe in the notion of a property owning, or part owning, democracy and creating real ladders of opportunity for local people who aspire to home ownership to
be able to fulfill those ambitions.
However, with the third highest residential property prices within the United Kingdom, achieving this presents significant challenges for many, especially those within social housing. Yet enabling social mobility and giving our residents the chance to own a real stake in their community is a core, fundamental belief of the current Conservative administration.
We are a borough of polar housing extremes, with the third highest open market sale prices, yet 31 per cent of total housing stock being socially rented. One of our key objectives has been to expand housing tenure products which sit in the middle of these extremes, namely the delivery of new homes for low cost home ownership which local people on a household of between £19,000 and £66,000 can purchase through Discount Market Sale.
Since 2006 we have helped nearly 1,000 people get onto the property ladder through the creation of H&F Home Buy. This was established to focus solely on matching local people priced out of the open market into affordable to buy homes delivered through affordable housing provision within private and housing association developments, as well as through directly delivered homes built by the council. The number on the HomeBuy currently stands at 5,800, compared to the 800 and falling on the council housing register, giving you a far truer reflection of housing need within H&F.
However, as well as this we also wanted to enable existing council tenants to benefit from these home ownership opportunities. For even after the increase in the Right to Buy discount to £100,000 within London, only a fraction of our tenants could ever afford to buy. This is why we have become the first council to offer our tenants the chance to be able to buy their council home one share at a time.
Last week we approved the policy. The concept was first pioneered by the former council leader Stephen Greenhalgh, that will enable council tenants to buy a share in their home from as little as 15 per cent and pay rent on the remaining share. Then, as and when they can afford it, they will be able to buy further shares until they eventually own it outright.
Called the Right to Buy Part of your council home, the new scheme, which works like a traditional shared ownership offer, has already received backing of the Mayor of London and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. We estimate that households with incomes ranging from just under £19,000 to £37,000 will benefit from the pioneering scheme, which is available to tenants who’ve had a tenancy for three years or more. Those taking part may also be entitled to an element of the Government’s Right to Buy discount on the share they buy.
However, the key difference between the Right to Buy part and traditional shared ownership is that we’ve sought to set the rent they pay on the remaining share at a level closer to social rents than market rents, so as to make the offer both attractive and financially sustainable for both parties. Crucially as well we’ve taken the decision to ensure that if the owner/shared owner later decides to sell, the property will be offered first to local people on the Home Buy register
Welcoming our new scheme, Eric Pickles, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, has said that he is “delighted Hammersmith & Fulham will now go even further by offering shared ownership under Right to Buy, enabling more tenants to take their first step on the property ladder.”
Clearly though this policy is more than simply enabling people to get a foot on the ladder, it is about the Conservatives creating opportunity for people to who work hard and aspire to get on in life. Putting in place, where we can, real ladders of social mobility and creating platforms for progression, not only in housing, but education and employment as well.
Overall I’m confident that through the Right to Buy Part more council tenants on modest or low incomes will be able to realise their dream of owning their own home. Through purchasing it, bit by bit, over a period of time that suits them. Thereby giving them a real stake in the communities in which they live and to be able to fulfill a deep seated British tradition of property ownership.