Cambridge's affordable housing plans in disarray

Cambridge skyline
Image caption Cambridge has 7,000 families on its housing waiting list because there is a shortage of affordable housing

A government proposal that new social housing tenants should pay 80% of market rents in Cambridge has been condemned by the city council.

Currently the city's council tenants pay 40% of the market rent, while its social housing tenants pay 60%.

"80% of a market rent for a two-bedroom house is over £700 a month," said John Marais, who represents council tenants.

Catherine Smart, the council's deputy leader, said this would force new tenants to claim housing benefit.

"That doesn't seem a very sensible thing, either for the people concerned or, actually, for the government finances," she said.

'Deceitful and dishonest'

There are more than 7,000 families on the city council's housing waiting list.

In 2010, the average market rent for a two-bedroom house was nearly £900 a month.

"It's completely deceitful and dishonest even to pretend that 80% of that is affordable," said Mr Marais, who is also a member of Defend Council Housing's national committee.

"When you're talking about affordable, you're talking about people on low incomes, say people on maybe £12,000 up to maybe £15,000 a year."

Rents are high because there is a shortage of accommodation in Cambridge, which has pushed up house prices.

Image caption New developments in the south and north west of Cambridge are to include 40% social housing

The city's popularity with London commuters has also heated up the housing market.

To address this the city council is in the final stages of planning large housing developments on the city's fringes, 40% of which will be for social tenants.

The housing association involved put in its application for a government grant to fund the building of this social housing.

'High rent area'

At this point the Housing and Communities Agency (HCA) told the association it should be charging its new tenants 80% of the market rent.

This was a surprise to the city council because the HCA has been involved with the development plans since their inception.

"They're ready to go, but they were worked out on the basis of 60% of market rents not 80%," said Ms Smart.

"That may be fine in other parts of the country where the rents are not so outlandish, but it doesn't fit Cambridge because it is a high rent area."

Ms Smart is hopeful the government will listen to her plea because it "is saying there should be local choice".

"We need a lot more houses for social rent in the city where people want to be so that they can work," she continued.

A spokesperson for the Homes and Communities Agency said: "It is not appropriate for us to comment on discussions with individual local authorities or providers while negotiations around Affordable Housing Programme offers are ongoing, however we are committed to localism, and the AHP (affordable housing programme) framework makes it clear that delivery should meet local priorities."

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