Statistics for the last available quarter (Jan – Mar) reveal that the number of house building starts in York fell.
Those attending a recent housing scrutiny committee, will have witnessed a mundane exchange about obstacles to increasing the amount of social housing in the City. Most comment centred on the lack of skilled labour in the sector, with a joint plan with York College the only idea cited to address the issue. Historically, of course, such skills have been imported from other parts of the country, and indeed Europe, to meet peaks in the house building programme.
Other questions remain unanswered.
While the Council policy of purchasing empty homes on the open
market – to add to the Council housing pool – has been a limited success, other
“innovations” have stalled.
There are around 200 people on the “self-build” register in the
City. Plots were allocated for their use at the new Lowfields development. It turns
out that the Council has made no progress in finding buyers for the plots. This
is another worrying factor on this controversial development where neighbouring
residents have given a high priority to having the site development completed
quickly. Self build is one of the slowest ways of providing a house, so hopes
that the builders would leave Lowfields within 3 years are fading.
Nearby the future of the Yorspace communal living experiment
remains in doubt. The Councils decision to sell a plot to them at a discount is
likely to face a further challenge if and when contracts are exchanged.
These are both relatively small initiatives, though, compared to the Council’s decision to go big on shared ownership programmes.
Shared ownership allows people to buy a share of between 25%
and 75% of a home from a landlord, usually the council or a housing
association, and rent the remaining share at a reduced rent. Of the 600
affordable housing units the Council expects to build over the next few years,
almost half will be designated as “shared ownership”.
Support for shared ownership came mainly from former
Conservative Councillors at the authority (mostly not re-elected in May). Ironically
they argued that the scheme would avoid the pitfall of “right to buy” applications
which could impact on the rental availability of any new Council houses built,
almost as soon as they were completed.
But the early signs are that there is only a very limited market for shared ownership tenure in York. Few of the 1700 or so who are on the housing waiting list seem to see this as a solution to their problems. (Many are older people seeking to “downsize”)
The Council offers to help individuals (with incomes of less than £80,000 a year) to buy homes on the open market and then allocate them to shared ownership. It has not published any figures which show how many have taken up this offer.
The Council also has some new build and conversion properties which it markets itself as shared ownership. It says on its web site that it does not have any such properties available at present. Nevertheless, it continues to advertise properties on Cemetery Road.
Again, no performance stats have been published by the
Council. Councillors need to question how the shared ownership programme is
impacting on the housing waiting list.
They may also wish to question further whether the Council is right to set up its own development and sales arm.
Local estate agents are better qualified to find buyers and renters.