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Special investigation: How new 'affordable housing' in Merseyside is FAR from affordable; Investigation reveals scale of problems facing low earners in our region.

Byline: Liam Thorp

Nearly all new "affordable" housing in Merseyside is anything but, a major new Echo investigation has revealed.

Affordable housing is an umbrella term used by the government to describe lower-rent properties that are available to eligible households unable to afford the full market rate.

This includes both traditional social rent housing - similar to what most people might call council housing - and "affordable rent" housing, which was introduced in 2011/12.

Social rent is based on a formula that combines local wages and local property values, and typically sees rents set at around 50% of private rents in the same area.

"Affordable rent", however, is capped at 80% of the full market rate - meaning that in many areas it will still be out of the reach of people on low incomes.

Charities say that affordable housing should only be considered truly affordable if it also factors in how much people in the area are earning.

The first year that "affordable rent" was introduced, it made up just 1% of all new affordable housing in Merseyside.

Social rent

However, just a year later in 2012/13 new "affordable rent" properties made up half of all affordable housing either built or acquired during the year, and by 2013/14 they had overtaken new social rent homes, accounting for 80% of the total.

Since then, "affordable rent" has gone on to eclipse social rent altogether - to the point where it made up 95% of all new affordable housing in Merseyside in 2017/18.

The number of social homes being built in our region has plummeted from 873 in 2011/12 to just 49 last year.

Some local areas see "affordable rent" housing dominate more than others.

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In Knowsley and Wirral, 100% of new affordable housing was "affordable rent" rather than social rent last year.

Meanwhile, in Liverpool the figure stood at 99%, in Sefton at 93%, and St Helens 44%.

In comparison, the national average saw 81% of new affordable housing built or acquired across England in 2017/18 classed as "affordable rent" rather than social rent.

Polly Neate, chief exec at Shelter, said: "Affordable housing should only earn its name if the rent reflects what people in the local area are actually paid.

Rents

"In many areas, 'affordable' rents are simply not affordable. This forces families to choose between the roof over their head, food on the table or a warm bedroom for their children - and those on the lowest incomes often can't get a foot in the door in the first place.

"With millions of people on waiting lists up and down the country and many others barely making ends meet, it's clear that families need a truly affordable alternative.

"Now is the time to back our call for 3.1m more social homes over the next 20 years and give a boost to those families who want to get on in life."

Average rents for both social and "affordable rent" properties vary, depending on location, whether the property is owned by the local authority or a private registered provider, and whether the housing is general needs or supported housing.

Supported housing is specifically for people who have additional needs such as elderly people, victims of domestic violence, homeless people, people with mental health needs, ex-service personnel, and people with learning disabilities.

Because support and care services are provided in addition to housing management, supported housing usually costs more than general needs social housing.

The current most common type of affordable housing found in Liverpool is general needs properties managed by private registered providers, such as housing associations.

These cost [pounds sterling]80 a week on average for a social rent property, compared to [pounds sterling]101.70 a week for an "affordable rent" property - meaning "affordable rent" in Liverpool is typically 27% higher, or [pounds sterling]1,128 more a year.

Private renters in Liverpool pay [pounds sterling]109.38 a week, on average.

These are your rights as tenant

Kate Henderson, chief executive of the National Housing Federation, said: "In 2010, the government stopped funding social housing altogether, and announced it would only fund homes for "affordable rent" instead.

"This left housing associations in a really difficult position where they had to choose between building homes for "affordable rent" or building nothing.

"In the face of a dire housing shortage, many housing associations chose to build affordable rented homes, but continued to argue that social housing shouldn't be neglected.

"While affordable rents do work for some people, there are many more who desperately need social housing.

She added: "In 2017, the government announced some new money for social housing for the first time in seven years, but this is nowhere near enough.

"Our research shows that we need to be building 90,000 social homes every year - but last year, only around 6,500 were built.

"The government's upcoming spending review is a great opportunity to invest in social housing and make sure that everyone has somewhere affordable and stable to live."

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What are your rights if you live in rented accomodation?

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Renting is a costly business on Merseyside
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Publication:Crosby Herald (Liverpool, England)
Date:Feb 15, 2019
Words:873
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