Tonight, all the main candidates standing to be Mayor of Greater Manchester are due to take part in a Greater Manchester Housing hustings at St Philip's Church in Salford (see previous Salford Star article – click here).
It comes in the same week that a new report from the Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) reveals the true extent of the social housing crisis in the region. During 2015-16, the report states, just 164 so-called 'affordable homes' were secured through Section 106 agreements with developers. And only 20% of these, or 33 homes were for 'affordable rent' - itself more expensive than 'social rent'.
Section 106 agreements are payments developers make to mitigate the impacts of their developments – for things like roads, public space, heritage and stuff. Also attached should be a percentage of affordable housing within their developments. The Salford Star has consistently shown how developers are avoiding and evading these obligations, using 'viability' arguments – that their profits won't be big enough if they had to cough up.
In Salford alone, the Star has documented well over £40million planning fees avoided this way, plus a loss of over 1,000 affordable homes. However, the scandal isn't just confined to our city, it's rampant all over Greater Manchester.
The GMCA report states: "There remain low levels of new affordable homes being delivered through the planning system via s.106 agreements, where the challenge of scheme viability makes it difficult for authorities to secure affordable homes in a GM market context."
The report adds that the pathetic Section 106 total of 164 affordable homes is "a significant increase on previous years, so it may be that this is the start of an upward trend, though it is too early to be confident..."
Away from Section 106, the report confirms that 2,000 'affordable units' were confirmed by councils and housing associations in the 18 months from April 2015 to September 2016, of which 85% will be affordable rent. But this is a drop in the ocean for Greater Manchester.
Salford alone currently has 9,863 on its housing waiting list, despite kicking 4,331 people off those lists when it brought in a new allocations policy recently.
Meanwhile, the Tory Government isn't helping one bit. Other than funding affordable rent homes for older, disabled or vulnerable groups, it has given no grants for affordable rent homes until recently when it stated that funding would be available..
However, the Government added it expected that "the majority of expenditure allocated within the Programme will support home ownership, through both Shared Ownership and Rent-to-Buy". These schemes are still largely unaffordable to low earners.
With so-called 'social housing' providers increasingly moving towards 'affordable rent' (which is 80% of market rent), home ownership sales and even market rented properties, Greater Manchester remains in the grip of a social housing crisis. The big question at tonight's hustings is whether the mayoral candidates are willing or able to get a grip on it...
Update: 4th April - for full report on the GM Mayor Housing Hustings - click here