Why ‘affordable’ housing is no longer affordable in Cambridge – discussion with Surjit Dhande from Cambridge Housing Association

Is it any wonder we have a housing crisis in Cambridge? At the last in our current series of ‘Our Cambridge’ cafe style discussion groups, Surjit Dhande from the Cambridge Housing Association explained how government policy has shifted and with it the housing base for people on low incomes.

The rent for social housing had been set at 45% of the local market rent but now an ‘affordable’ rent for their tenants could be set at 80% of the market rent, he told us. Government subsidies have shrunk dramatically (to 10-15%) with the assumption that more money would be raised by increases in rent.

As a result the Cambridge Housing Association (part of CHS Group) was faced with a choice of increasing rents or borrowing money.

CHS had resisted the move to ‘affordable’ rent and chosen to forgo the grant and stick to the social rent so that there are concessions to 60% of the local market rent not 80%.

There was the option of subsidised shared home ownership which would require an annual income of £30,000-£40,000 and owners could, over time, buy a bigger proportion of the property. The national focus had been on home ownership and rented accommodation had been neglected.

Surjit pointed out that that the ‘Right to Buy’ meant that social housing was shrinking. Changes to grants meant that only income surplus and borrowing could be used to build more houses.

Therefore In order to build more houses CHS has set up a commercial subsidiary, a housing development company which sells houses on the open market. All profits are used to subsidise affordable housing.

CHS also provides good quality care services for elderly people both private arrangements and via social security. There are also nurseries with spaces for tenants which are cross subsidised by private fees. Supportive housing is provided for clients with more severe needs involving the community investment team.

Surjit agreed with a group member that the economic changes had led to more homelessness. Feedback from tenants is obtained and CHS regards tenant satisfaction and value for money as very important. Housing Associations are regulated by the Homes and Community Agency (HCA).

Surjit explained that the Cambridge Housing Society (CHS) had been founded in 1927 in response to the housing needs of the town’s poorest families. CHS was celebrating its 90th anniversary this year and was still committed to these charitable aims but was also having to deal with changes to the economic environment in which it works.