Good news for key workers seeking a home

But media story on Council house sales was misleading

The York Council is offering first refusal to key workers on one of its housing development sites (see box).

They are right to do so.

The eight homes can be reserved by key workers who meet the Government criteria (the definition of which is drawn fairly wide) and who are eligible for the Help To Buy scheme.

The advertising blurb is misleading of course.

There will be no “abundant outside space” at Lowfields as the adjacent playing fields are also being built on. Such open space as is planned, is unlikely to be landscaped for several years as sections of the development, including public service buildings, elderly persons accommodation, communal housing, and playgrounds, have yet to leave the drawing board.

The development has however avoided some of the eccentricities seen elsewhere in the Council’s house building programme.

At Duncombe, and in Burnholme, car parking is restricted to fewer spaces than there are properties, with the Council urging people to use a “cargo bike” to get the weekly shop in!

The change in shopping habits, with more people now shopping on-line, hasn’t been recognised with no delivery lockers included in design specifications.

Similarly, at Lowfields ,the option for purchasers to have a living boundary hedge (rather than a close boarded fence) is still is not on offer.

Still success looks likely against the background of a very buoyant housing market in the city at present. Sales should provide the income necessary to cross subsidise the Council house building element of the programme.

What may irk the Council is misleading stories like the one that appeared in the commercial media on Friday which highlighted that “right to buy” (RTB) sales exceeded the provision of new Council houses last year.

That has been the position virtually every year for half a century with successive governments maintaining the RTB policy.

The only disagreement between the Tories and Labour has been on the level of discounts to be offered.

Against the background caused by the pandemic, there will in any event be some delays in building replacements.

It is only relatively recently, that central government even allowed local authorities to reinvest the sales income to provide replacement properties for rent. The Council started purchasing replacements on the open market as recently as 10 years ago, although even this was resisted by some York Councillors.

We don’t believe that local authorities should be restricted in how much of their RTB receipts they can use to provide replacement homes.

Within the last few days, the government has announced further changes. In future, 40% of right to buy income can be used to provide replacement homes while receipts must be spent within 5 years (rather than 3) .

 But the current Council deserves credit for getting the Council house building programme going again.

Providing good quality homes to rent with high insulation values, and hence lower running costs, is a significant step forward

Such progress should be recognised by the media, commentators, and pressure groups.

Scepticism over York Council house prices at Lowfields

Average house prices in Dijon Avenue – next to the new “Lowfields Green development – are around £191,000. A 3 bedroomed semi is estimated to be worth between £188,000 and £208,000 according to the Zoopla web site. Prices are similar in nearby Lowfields Drive.

The announcement that the new “Clover” three bed, 94 sq. mtr, semi would cost £295,000 raised many eyebrows. With average salaries of £26,000 a year in York, that means a working couple would be able to borrow a maximum of £234,000 with repayments set at £1109 per month. They would also need a deposit of £60,000.

So we can safely say that the houses aren’t aimed at first time buyers.

Shape homes are offering a “shared ownership” option on some smaller properties. Two 2-bedroomed semi-detached houses (The Burdock) are for sale for between 25%-75% of the whole sale price of £225,000 (for example, a 30% share would cost £67,500). The Council have already completed deals elsewhere in the City for about 30 shared ownership homes. In most of those cases the prospective occupant identified a propriety that was available on the open market and asked the Council to buy half. The occupiers then pay part mortgage and part rent.

Finally seven “social rent” properties will be available.  Two are 2-bedroomed semi-detached houses and there are five 2-bedroomed semi-detached bungalows. Rent levels for the properties have not been revealed, although they will be much less than the £800 pm commercial rents being asked for similar properties in the area. Applicants will need to be on the housing waiting list although it is possible that preference will be given to Council tenants seeking to downsize from larger properties (freeing them, in turn, for family occupation).

Old Bowling Green semi

By way of comparison, a new 3 bed semi on the prestigious Old Bowling Green site on Front Street is listed for sale at £310,000  It has 90 sq. metres of floorspace and is arguably better located than the houses at “Lowfields Green”. Building work on the site will also conclude shortly.

Quite how the £295,000 price for the Lowfields semi has been arrived at was not made clear in the business case figures published by the Council.

It can only serve to stoke house price inflation at a time when many are feeling the pressures arising from the health crisis.

Some cross subsidy of the rented units was expected across the whole site.But that doesn’t explain the £50,000 premium apparently now being sought.

The Council may also point to high standards of thermal efficiency, but it would take over 100 years to repay the extra “up-front” costs through energy bill savings.