Friday, 30 November 2018

Hostel planning application - 359 Kingsland Road

by Councillors Polly Billington and James Peters

We've received a number of e-mails from De Beauvoir residents telling us about their opposition to and disquiet about planning application 2018/2783, in which the applicant - a private party - says that it plans to build a 292-place homeless hostel at 337 to 359 Kingsland Road. That's the plot of land between Kingsland Road and Enfield Road, immediately to the north of the old fire station site and immediately south of the Metropolitan Hostel, here:

We took part in a recent discussion of the application convened by the De Beauvoir Association, and we listened to residents.

Below is a copy of a letter we have sent to the Council’s Planning Department, explaining a number worries we have about such a big hostel being built in De Beauvoir.  In the rest of this blog post, we have tried to address some of the points made to us by De Beauvoir residents in person and by e-mail, and to place our thinking in the broader context of the dreadful housing crisis that we're facing in Hackney and, more broadly, across London.

What we want to avoid is a private party making very considerable profits from the misfortune of our fellow citizens who can no longer afford the rocketing rents in Hackney. We certainly want to avoid that private party profiting but not ensuring decent living conditions for the people who will live in the hostel. That cannot be an outcome that the Council will allow.

Here's our letter to the Planning Department:

The context of the housing crisis

It should be clear to all of us that the housing market in Hackney is failing very many people who have grown up and live in Hackney.

Every week, as councillors, we see the impact on people – including very many young children and teenagers – of long stays in, frankly, unsuitable conditions in homeless hostels around De Beauvoir. The people we deal with are ordinary people. Most are small and growing families.  Most adults living in our hostels are in work, in the same way that most people who go to food banks have a job and most people who claim benefits are employed. It's just that being employed and being from Hackney no longer means that you can necessarily afford to rent a home in Hackney (let alone buy one!).

The reality is that many people find themselves homeless while employed, with children and through no fault of their own, often evicted by landlords seeking higher rents, exploiting the law that means that people have short-term, insecure tenancies. Short of a deposit, facing insecurity in work and with responsibilities to their families, people don’t choose to be in this situation. 
It is in these circumstances that the Council has an obligation to house them and that is a duty that we should be proud to deliver. These circumstances don’t appear by accident. They are the obvious consequences of this Conservative government's policy and inaction.

No one, least of all us, would choose hotel accommodation as a solution to the shortage of affordable housing in our borough. The length of time Hackney residents end up in “temporary accommodation” means that it's very far from being "temporary". In the absence of any meaningful Government support, Hackney Council continues to build as many social homes as it can - including in De Beauvoir.  Unless and until there is a change of government and consequent radical change in housing policy, we will continue to live through a crisis of unaffordable housing. Hackney Council can’t solve this crisis alone but the Conservative government could fix it. It’s just that it won’t; they clearly don’t care.

Why not build permanent social housing on this site?

Some residents have asked why this site cannot simply be used to build permanent social housing, in which local families could settle, rather than those families being housed in cramped, individual rooms (as, we understand, will be the case in the proposed development).
There are two main reasons for this:

  1. The first reason is that the applicant hasn't asked for planning permission to build flats.  The applicant has asked to build a hostel and this is privately-owned land. If the application complies with the relevant planning law and guidance, the Council's planning department will have to recommend granting the permission. We very much sympathise with neighbouring residents' views but we also recognise that it is unlikely to be within the planning authority's powers to reject the application out of hand.
  2. The second reason is that the Council desperately needs “temporary accommodation” to discharge its legal duty to provide housing for people who genuinely have nowhere to live.  The Council's preference is always to keep people in Hackney, close to jobs, friends and family.

Local housing authorities, such as Hackney Council, have a legal duty to ensure that suitable accommodation is available to those homeless households accepted as in priority need (such as families with children and households that include someone who is vulnerable, for example because of pregnancy, old age, or physical or mental disability) provided they are eligible for assistance and unintentionally homeless.

Over the past few years, Hackney Council, along with all London boroughs, has faced a massive increase in the number of households approaching it as homeless and needing help. The situation in Hackney is probably worse than in most other boroughs because we've seen very sudden increases in housing prices here (both to buy a home, or to rent). For example, Foxtons estimates that the average weekly rental for a two bedroom flat in Hackney is £579, which is more than the estimated average weekly pay in the borough.

But price isn't the only factor: insecurity of tenancies means that landlords can evict a family at the end of an annual tenancy if they think they can get a higher rent from someone else and the Conservative Government's welfare changes are pushing many in Hackney into precarity and deprivation. As we say above: many, if not most, people who are staying in Hackney's hostels are employed.

The flow of people approaching the Council as homeless, and to whom the Council owes a duty to house, is greater than the number of homes the Council has available and the number of new social homes it can build in the borough. So, the Council needs more of this “temporary accommodation” (which, sadly, is not particularly “temporary” given the 3 to 4 year duration of stays at the moment).

If the Council doesn't find temporary accommodation in Hackney, it will have to look outside of Hackney, probably far outside. This may move people a long way from their families, jobs, children's schools and support networks, which will be highly disruptive for them and, probably, increase the burden on public finances.

Why isn't the Council building homes for everyone who needs them?

As Mayor Glanville said when giving evidence to the Public Accounts Committee’s Inquiry into Homeless Households this time last year about a different hostel: “We shouldn’t be proud that we’re having to open new hostels, but to respond to the pressures we’re facing we are. Rather than investing in that quick fix we need a new development of social housing.

Rather than using hostels, we would far rather be building long-term, quality homes for people from Hackney.

We're delivering one of the biggest programmes of council house building in the country, and that’s with almost no help from the Conservative Government.

Until 2010, councils were given grants from the (then) Labour Government to build social housing. Until the Labour Mayor of London started funding council housing again this year, the Conservatives had stopped all funding for affordable homes to rent. But it's even worse than that, with restrictions placed upon councils' use of “right to buy” receipts and artificial restrictions on borrowing (only just abolished), this Conservative Government actively stands in the way of council home-building (at a time when the private sector isn't delivering the homes we need).

Social housing is part of the solution and will reduce some of the pressure, which is why the council is proposing to use its land to build 150 new homes on the De Beauvoir estate as part of the Council's "Housing Supply Programme" - two thirds of which will be affordable (either social rents or shared ownership), with the rest for private sale to pay for them in the absence of Government funding. The Council will also offer the properties first to those in housing need in the local area, or living in overcrowded conditions on the estate. This is part of our plans over the next five years to build, directly or with our partners, over 3,000 new homes across the borough including 800 new council and social rented homes and 700 council shared ownership homes.

You can read more about the new homes planned for the De Beauvoir Estate here: 

& this is where they'll be: