Funding ‘biggest barrier’ to council’s family homes target

Council report outlines obstacles faced in providing cheaper and larger homes in Enfield, reports Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter

New housing recently completed at Enfield Council's 'Electric Quarter' development in Ponders End
New housing recently completed at Enfield Council’s £50m ‘Electric Quarter’ development in Ponders End, where 72 out of the 167 new homes (43%) are family-sized, thanks in part to funding from the Greater London Authority

More government funding is need for Enfield Council to deliver on its plans to build more affordable family-sized homes, according to a report.

The council aims to build 3,500 affordable homes by 2035, with a target for 40% of these to be three-bedroom or larger units suitable for families.

It comes after the borough’s 2019 local housing need assessment highlighted a 42% shortfall in three-bedroom rented homes. In addition, the highest demand among households on the waiting list for council housing is for three-bedroom homes.

But the council report, presented to a meeting of the equalities board on Wednesday, states that funding is the “biggest barrier” to delivery because calculations do not take into consideration the size of homes.

Joanne Drew, the council’s director of housing and regeneration, told the meeting that rents from social and affordable homes were not enough to pay for the costs of building them, so the authority needed grants from the government or Greater London Authority to fund them.

She added: “Even so, family homes cost more to build per unit than one and two-beds, so there isn’t enough grant to enable a whole scheme to be built out viably. 

“Schemes are always a compromise between what we would like to do, which is affordable housing on most sites, usually, and what we can afford to do. So we balance schemes up with smaller units to make them viable.”

Under questioning from Labour’s Achilleas Georgiou about the report’s connection to equalities, Joanne said the majority of residents in temporary accommodation were from black, Asian and minority ethnic (Bame) backgrounds. She added that the housing waiting list had a higher percentage of residents with disabilities and “enduring housing needs of different complexities”.

Joanne said that at least 10% of the homes built by the council will be fully wheelchair adaptable and suitable for those with disabilities.

Bevin Betton, chair of Enfield Racial Equality Council, said housing associations that the civic centre uses should also be looking at family-sized houses. He added: “Yes family-sized housing is costly, but that is what is required, and we should build family-sized houses.”

Joanne replied that the council was looking to make best use of existing homes, tackling “under-occupation” by encouraging people who do not need large homes to downsize. She added that a scheme called “chain links” is used to prioritise those in overcrowded homes for new developments, freeing up accommodation for other families.

Pointing out that “affordable” housing as defined by the government is out of reach of many in the most deprived parts of Enfield, Cllr Georgiou said the council needed to “lead the way” and define what is affordable for residents. He said that five years ago, the council had defined an “Enfield affordable rent” that it worked towards, but that “seemed to have been lost”. 

Joanne replied that if the council were to adopt such a policy, it would affect the “quantum” of housing that could be supplied and the number of family homes that could be delivered.

Earlier this year, as part of a special investigation into Enfield’s housing crisis, the Dispatch reported that the council had missed its 40% overall affordable homes target in 2019/20, with an average of 30% of all completed conventional housing being designated as affordable.