There are currently 799,400 households in social housing across the capital. That’s 23% of all households, and the rate has been fairly stable for the past 7 years, falling very gradually from 24.6% in 2009. During the same period the demand has increased from a growing population, and there are more families living in social housing in London now than there were in 2009.
What has been changing more dramatically is the ownership structure. 20 years ago town halls owned 3 times the number of homes as housing associations in the social housing sector. The latest figures on housing stock for 2015 show that they are now near parity and the trend suggests that the majority of homes will be owned by private providers this year.
Council-owned housing stock has been in decline since the 1980s when the government of Margaret Thatcher introduced the Right To Buy scheme to enable tenants to buy their council property.
Housing associations have been building at a faster rate than council have been replenishing their stocks and some councils have transferred their homes to these private providers.
A number of London boroughs have done this. Richmond owns no housing. Bexley, Bromley and Merton have also transferred their social housing stock to private registered landlords, although all have a very small number of homes still listed under their ownership.
In contrast, the borough of Southwark owns 36,687 homes, the largest number in London.
As many people struggle to find a suitable place to live the demand for social housing remains strong. More than a quarter of a million households are on housing waiting lists held by local authorities. The number has gone up by 3% since last year to 263,491, the first rise in 10 years.
All local authorities have a register of people who are seeking social housing, which offers much lower rent and secure tenancies. The criteria councils use to decide whether someone is eligible for a place on the register have changed since 2011 when they were given greater freedom to manage the lists. This has contributed to the reduced number of people on the lists, until last year’s rise, according to the Department for Communities and Local Government.
Most councils warn people seeking a place on the register that with limited numbers of houses and few becoming available each year they are likely to have to wait a long time for a property, if they qualify to receive one at all.
Whether they are hoping for a council house or social housing from a housing association, their chances are limited. The social rent sector is under pressure. Out of more than 17,000 new “affordable” homes built in London last year only 3,000 were for social rental, as reported by Urbs.
This means that many people on lower earnings will continue to seek an affordable option in the private rental market. Rental price increases in recent years have made this a real struggle, as reported here, which is why it has become one of the key battlegrounds in the forthcoming elections for Mayor.