Jennette Arnold
London assembly member for North East London — fighting your corner at City Hall

Well done Cllr James Murray for speaking up for a ‘social rent’ for Islington

Good account by Andrew Johnson of Islington Tribune: Labour council will not go into partnership with housing associations unless they charge a ‘social’ rent for Islington 21 December, 2012 TOWN Hall housing chiefs went eyeball to eyeball with the Mayor of London’s lawyers last week in a bid to keep rents in Islington as low as possible. Boris Johnson wants to hike so-called “affordable” rents – those charged by housing associations – by making the definition of the term “affordable” mean 80 per cent of market rents. But Islington’s Labour council argues that this is not “affordable”. Instead, it is committed to a policy of “social” rents, which means keeping rents in the social sector down to about 30 per cent of that charged by private landlords. This is the amount council tenants pay. Labour housing chief Councillor James Murray has said the council will not go into partnership with housing associations unless they charge a “social” rent. In July, the Tribune reported that some couples need to earn £72,000 a year to live in parts of Islington, and the highest housing association rent was £2,300 a month. Families are also being forced out of the borough because of the government’s housing benefit cap. The policy has, however, put Cllr Murray and the Labour leadership on a collision course with Mr Johnson, who wants his 80 per cent model rolled out across the capital. This means that last week the two sides had to meet and put their case to a planning inspector for arbitration. Cllr Murray told the Tribune, however, that, whatever the result, the Town Hall will not back down. In an opening speech to the inspector at the Town Hall hearing last Wednesday, he said: “The mix of population in Islington means that the mix of homes we need for the future is complex and subtle. “We witness very high market sale prices, which rose by a third over the last three years, and are now 10 per cent higher than the previous peak values of December 2007, while private rents are rising at a rate of 16-17 per cent a year. “Alongside this, our borough is one of the most deprived local authorities in England, with the country’s second-highest rate of child poverty. “In this context, making sure we have housing that people in need can afford is a challenge – a challenge that, while faced across London and the country, is particularly pronounced here. “We need a confident and workable plan to provide housing for those who can’t afford market rates.” He added to the Tribune: “If it [the arbitration decision] goes against us then we are into unknown territory. We could end up in the courts.” He was supported at the hearing by Jeremy Corbyn, Labour MP for Islington North, Colin Archer, of Islington and Shoreditch Housing Association, and Nicky Gavron, Labour’s Londonwide member of the London Assembly. Berkeley Homes spoke in favour of the Mayor’s position. His argument is that Islington’s stance goes against the national plan formulated by communities minister Eric Pickles. It is intended to provide the finance to build more homes.