Video: Housing in Wandsworth, a personal view

Speech to Wandsworth council, October 19, 2011 (begins at 11 minutes 50 seconds into the debate)

I would like to sketch out some of the personal effects in Wandsworth today of the historical forces Cllr Belton and Cllr Elis have described.

I hope to emphasise that whether you own a home, are in social housing or rent privately, we can all feel anxious about the roof over our head.

Let’s start with people who rent from private landlords. We should remember the young people from around the country whose fulfilment depends on our affordable rental properties. I am the only person from my secondary school class in Birmingham who moved to London to do a professional job. The capital is the centre for media, politics, finance – high rents defer and deny many people’s ambitions.

On Social housing. There are many examples, but I’ll give just one example as it was the first piece of casework I got when I joined the council last year: Chris Richards is an ambulance driver who grew up in Battersea and lives his wife and their two young children in a studio flat – not even one bedroom – on the Winstanley Estate in Latchmere.

Yesterday I was informed he is still waiting for a transfer. Mr Richards plays by the rules and we let him down.

We could, incidentally, increase the supply of affordable homes – for sale and for rent – if, like neighbouring Lambeth, we insist on 40pc affordable homes in all new Nine Elms developments. 4,000 extra affordable homes.

Owner occupiers: who could afford to buy in Wandsworth today? Let’s look at a group of people – hardly key workers, but they do unpleasant tasks in precarious jobs – it’s the Wandsworth Tory cabinet members. Let’s pick four and asked them to leave the houses they now occupy and to buy them at current prices.

Start with Councillor Maddan – who declares a flat in Weimar Street, Putney. Estate agents estimate a similar flat could be bought for £340,000. This would require something like £24,000 a year in mortgage payments. After taxes and student loan repayments this would leave the average Wandsworth household with £128 a year for all other living costs.

And this property is not even the Wandsworth average price – which is a shade over £500,000.

Councillor Cousins of Elsley Road, Shaftesbury Estate. Estimates are around £600,000 in this street, so estimated mortgage payments of £40,000. And to be clear, a family taking on that level of debt is best understood not as filthy rich and ripe to be taxed further, but as a family stretched to the limit and every bit as anxious about their finances as the rest of us.

Councillor Senior of Gowrie Road, Battersea. Estimates for three bed houses in the area vary around £800,000. This would require mortgage payments of £56,000 a year plus six-figure assets up front for the deposit. Who can afford this?

Finally Councillor Ellis: his correspondence suggests he is worth £100m, but I’m not sure whether he actually owns the Town Hall.

So I’ll finish with questions: where would a young person who followed your career and family life end up? How can the council make housing work for residents rather than large property developers? What is the path up the ladder for workers on low wages? Is it possible to bring up a family of three or four children in Wandsworth today?

Cllr Carpenter will explain more of the finances and Cllr Cooper more of the politics as we continue with this absorbing debate.

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