The Mancunion

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Council to take action over affordable housing crisis

The council is launching “innovative housing schemes” to combat a trend of expensive building developments pricing out Mancunian residents from the city centre

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A complete absence of affordable housing in Manchester City Centre has brought forth questions about cost of living and gentrification in Manchester.

A report by Greater Manchester Housing Action revealed that out of 15,000 recently built homes in the city centre, not one can be classed as ‘affordable’.

The report showed specifically how people would need to be earning up to and beyond £10,000 more than the average salary in Manchester in order to reliably pay mortgage repayments on the new flats.

The new report was commissioned by Greater Manchester Housing Action from Dr Jonathan Silver, an academic at Sheffield university. He found that roughly half of the new Manchester homes had been funded by international wealth, from countries such as Singapore, Germany, China, and the Middle East, some of which operate through off-shore vehicles with limited financial transparency.

The overall effects of such a model are clear, he believes — the apartments are primarily assets for investors, not homes.

On Tuesday, the council released plans for “Innovative housing schemes” which “will help bring affordable homes to Manchester people”.

In a press release on the 1st of March, Councillor Bernard Priest, Deputy Leader of Manchester City Council, said: “we know that affordable housing is a real concern for Mancunians and a subject of considerable debate and some speculation. We want to reassure people that affordable housing is a very high priority for us at the Council…Last week [we broke ground on 40 new council homes in the city and we have many more in the pipeline.”

“We are overseeing the delivery of thousands of new decent affordable homes and will continue to make the best use of our resources to maximise this, as well as continuing to maximise section 106 planning contributions which help pay for lots of public infrastructure works as well as affordable housing.

“Manchester is a sought-after place to live and for the city to continue to thrive it’s essential that we meet the demand for all types of housing.”

Two new housing schemes are to be introduced to make affordable housing for first time buyers and lower income households. A Housing Affordability Fund (HAF) is also to be established, which would be used to subsidise affordable housing projects.

Manchester’s affordable housing problem was first revealed in a report from Shelter last year, which said Manchester had one of the worst outcomes in the country for affordable housing. Whenever developers used ‘viability’ assessments in the years 2015 and 2016, it resulted in no affordable housing being built.

Shelter’s chief executive Polly estimated at the time that Manchester had lost nearly 500 potential affordable homes, and stated that: “What this research reveals is the scale at which developers are able to use legal loopholes to protect their profits and dramatically reduce the numbers of affordable homes available for people.”

In theory, the council’s policy dictates that all Manchester’s new housing developments of more than 50 units are obliged to contain at least 20 affordable units; otherwise the financial developer must make a contribution. However, since Manchester and Salford’s post-crash development took off in earnest a few years ago, their councils have been allowed to ignore the housing requirements.

Developers initially claimed profits were low, thus ruling affordable housing and contributions for cheaper homes out of their budget. Only planning officers in the town hall could disprove these claims since financial ‘viability’ assessments are kept private from most councillors.

Planning reports have since simply repeatedly claimed that “The developer has indicated that to provide any affordable housing would make the project unviable.”

However, housing is not the end of the problem, it is part of a trend in Manchester. For example, it was recently revealed the alternative clothing shop Rockers in the Northern Quarter may be forced to close due to increasing rents and the fact that the shop is due to be halved due to a new development project.

Owner Katherine Parsons said: “Our lease ran out in November and they haven’t renewed it. We’re on a monthly contract, so we should be here until April. They said it could be summer when the planning application is passed and they would look to rehouse us.

But when I looked at the plans my shop would only be half the size after the changes….Everyone is really upset.”

Richard Ward, consultant for Millerbrook Properties, said “Rents are going up significantly in the Northern Quarter, it’s changing rapidly with a lot of new money coming in” but that “we want to keep the independents in the Northern Quarter — that’s what it’s all about”.

The force of new money and investment in Manchester is a concern for independent retailers in the Northern Quarter and Manchester at large.