Can you live in a percentage?

No – of course you can’t.  So why is the percentage of new homes which are affordable treated as being of such totemic importance?

When talking about the success, or otherwise, of a borough’s housing policy the number of new homes built, in total, and the proportion of these that are affordable, seem to often be treated being separate and unrelated.  But f you’ve only built two houses in the course of a year, achieving 50% affordable housing is no great achievement.  Or, as is often attributed to Sir Eddie Lister – “50% of nothing is still nothing.”

50% of nothing is still nothing.

What this means, though, is that we perhaps do not look at how successful local policy is at producing the right number of homes in the right mix.  Or, put another way, whether the combination of London Plan housing targets and local affordable housing targets is actually encouraging enough new homes to be built whilst securing the number of affordable homes it sets out to?

Using some (rather laboriously assembled) stats (more on these another day) I have looked at how successful the London boroughs have been in meeting current affordable housing targets in absolute, rather than percentage, terms over the period 2009/10 – 2014/15.

For example, the London Plan sets Hillingdon the challenge of 3,354 homes over a six year period.  Hillingdon also has a 35% affordable housing target.  So logic would suggest that it should build 1,174 new affordable homes over this period.  In fact, it has built slightly more, so has actually exceeded its target (the only one in London to have done so on this measurement).

The darker the red, the further below target numbers of affordable homes built.  Click on each borough for more details.

Bear in mind that this is an illustration of how well policy is working and the number of affordable homes, compared with the target number.  It is not the overall affordable housing  delivery percentages.

This shows the variation in the boroughs’ success at meeting their own policy targets.  It also shows that, in the period 2009/10 – 2015/16, on average the London boroughs built, per year, 47% of the affordable homes sought by their current London Plan housing targets and local affordable housing policies.

On average, across London, the boroughs are building only 47% of the affordable homes that they are currently aiming to build.

In a world where policy is supposed to be effective  (NPPF para 183)  – rather than aspirational or even utopian – the extent to which the number of new affordable homes, rather than the percentage, exceeds, meets, or undershoots targets, surely is of some relevance in setting future policy?

Boroughs that have lower affordable housing targets, but have come closer to achieving them, perhaps have more realistic, effective and deliverable policies than those that have sky-high targets on which they consistently fall far short of meeting.

PS – I am conscious that this analysis is based on the 2015 London Plan housing targets, which were not the ones that applied in 2009.  I might look at rolling this analysis back retrospectively but, in terms of informing current policy making, the performance of the housing market over the past six years against current policy targets is still relevant.

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