Commission begins inquiry into affordable housing in Waltham Forest

An expert panel began an inquiry into affordable housing in Waltham Forest this week.

The Affordable Housing Commission is a group of experts tasked with taking a “deep dive” into Waltham Forest Council’s house-building record and drawing up recommendations for the next ten years.

A particular concern for the council in the coming years is the “challenging” housing market, which has already been impacted by rising build costs, labour shortages and inflation.

The commission also comes as the council strains to meet the needs of more than 7,000 households on its housing waiting list, amidst increasingly unaffordable private rents and despite thousands dropping off the list after a policy change last year.

At the launch of the commission on January 25, cabinet member for housing and regeneration Ahsan Khan said he hopes the commission will bring a “fresh pair of eyes” to the council’s policies.

He added: “When we talk about our housing targets, we can get a lot of opposition. It is up to us to ensure that the homes coming forward are meeting local needs.

“That is what we are hoping to get out of this commission – that the homes we are building are responding to local needs and are made for [council] housing residents, for young people and for people working locally.”

Only 5 per cent of almost 9,000 Waltham Forest homes built by the council and private developers in the last decade were available at social rent.

Around a third were rented in a more expensive “affordable” category or sold through the shared ownership scheme.

The council is currently building new homes through its in-house team, as well as indirectly through council-owned development company Sixty Bricks.

At the launch, held at a Walthamstow flat block built by Sixty Bricks, council leader Grace Williams said the local Labour party is “proud” of its house-building record but admitted the council needs to find “better solutions” to the housing crisis.

She added: “It’s a national scandal that people who work here or go to school here are being forced out – people who can’t afford to continue to live where they grew up. 

“It’s about homes being out of reach in a way they never have been before. 

“As councillors we have people coming in every week telling us how difficult it is to find a home in the private sector. It’s clear that at the moment that the government doesn’t have a hope.

“We’re making sure we’re doing everything we can at a local level to do better.”

In the coming months, the group will hold four private sessions to hear evidence from witnesses, including senior council officers, before presenting a public report to the council this summer.

Other evidence sessions are said to include feedback from resident focus groups and councillors.

When asked why the commission will not be held in public, Cllr Khan said there is “no real reason”.

He added: “Nothing that is being discussed is controversial, [whether it is public] just hasn’t come up, commissions are not an exact science.”

The commission is to be chaired by Geeta Nanda OBE, chief operating officer of housing association Metropolitan Thames Valley.

Other members include:

  • Fred Angole, deputy chief executive of YMCA St Paul’s Group and board member for Notting Hill Genesis and Newlon Housing Trust
  • Nick Bowes, chief executive of Centre for London
  • Nicola Mathers, chief executive of Future of London
  • Professor Janice Morphet, visiting professor at UCL and fellow of the Royal Town Planning Institute
  • Rob Perrins, CEO of the Berkeley Group and trustee of Crisis
  • Melissa Tettey, chief executive of Citizens Advice Waltham Forest
  • Gavin Smart: chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Housing

Conservative councillor John Moss said: “We hope that the commission will consider all forms of affordable housing, including those which lead to home ownership.

“We would also like our council to fully embrace the principle of the infrastructure levy in its approach to securing affordable homes in future new developments.”

Following the original publication of this article, a Waltham Forest Council spokesperson told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that the panel will made up of “industry experts” with a “deep understanding” of house building.

They said that, along with a final report on the commission’s findings, minutes of each of its meetings will be “published in full”.

The spokesperson added: “We have already committed to building 1000 council homes in this administration and have one of the best records of any London borough in this area.

“We look forward to the scrutiny the commission and the resident focus groups will bring.”

Advertisement

Josh Mellor

Local Democracy Reporter