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East Village: trying to be friendly?

The 2012 Olympics held in East London were supposed to leave a legacy for Londoners who shelled out on developing the Stratford site where the Games were held. East Londoners were hoping that the Athletes Village would, after minor conversion, be made available to local people at fair rents: unfortunately, this has not been the case. Part of the Athletes’ Village has been renamed East Village and is now being let out by Get Living London (GLL) on a private basis. While GLL claims it is being a good landlord and offering a high standard of services, disposing of the Athletes’ Village in this way has done nothing to alleviate the desperate local housing shortage.

Now GLL has commissioned a rather strange survey on neighbourliness. One Poll, on behalf of Get Living London, questioned 2,000 adults between 3rd and 7th December 2015. The results generally showed that the respondents were not very neighbourly. GLL then extrapolated the results to the whole of Great Britain.

GLL concluded:
85% of “Brits” rarely communicate with their neighbours and half don’t know their closest neighbours’ names, with half also wanting to change their neighbours if they could (is this the half who do know their neighbours’ names or the half who don’t, one wonders);
one third of those surveyed have experienced troubles with neighbours (presumably two third have not – perhaps they are among the 85% who rarely communicate with their neighbours; though this would also suggest that just under 20% of Brits don’t communicate with their neighbours but still experience trouble with them);
90% of those questioned say it is important to get on with your neighbours and would happily lend them things if asked, and 87% said they trusted their neighbours (the same percentage as rarely communicate with them).

These findings are not typical of traditional East End estates, which used to have very strongly developed communities – micro societies which virtually managed themselves and supported each other. Most of these estates have had the heart ripped out of them by developers and private landlords.

Neil Young, CEO of Get Living London, has pointed out that GLL has found a strategy to combat this more general lack of neighbourliness, explaining that “one way we work hard to make East Village one of London’s friendliest neighbourhoods is through bringing people together at free events.”

Residents seem to agree. Aniket Potdar, who has recently moved to East Village, said “It’s honestly the friendliest place I’ve ever lived. … The free events Get Living London has put on, combined with the new independent shops, cafés and restaurants have really helped to bring people closer together.”

Perhaps one of the reasons why East Village is so friendly is that it is a very selective community, with the 2,600 residents all able to afford the exorbitant rents.

Furnished 1 bedroom flat
The cheapest available at the time of writing is £360 per week (£1,560 per month). If you were to pay 50% of your income on your rent, you would need to have a net income of £3,120 per month (£37,440 per year – or around £58,000 gross).  Two people sharing the 1 bed flat would need to be earning around £35,000 each to keep their expenditure on rent to around 50% of their earnings.

Furnished 2 and 3 bedroom flats
The cheapest 2-bed available at the time of writing is £410 per week, and the cheapest 3-bed is £560 per week. You would have to earn a very substantial income to afford this on your own, but it could be a reasonably affordable (though very cosy) flat for four (or six) high earners to share. The weekly rent on the three bedroomed flat is similar to the monthly rent which Tower Hamlets Council and local housing associations charge for a three bedroomed flat.

Does any of this matter? Surely if people can afford to live in East Village they will do so and the rest of us can just get on with it. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as that.

First, the rents which GLL charges are way over the Local Housing Allowance (LHA), which is the maximum rent housing benefit will cover. In other words, it’s the top rent the Government thinks should be charged in this locality. The Tower Hamlets LHA is, per week, £257.35 (1-bedroom), £302.22 (2-bedroom), £354.46 (3-bedroom). The Government introduced LHA because it expected private landlords to bring rents down to these levels, which would help keep the housing benefit bill from spiralling out of control. A landlord which charges over the LHA rate is encouraging other landlords to start charging more too.

Second, the last Government said it expected social landlords to set their rents at 80% of local market rents. The current Government is putting a Bill through Parliament which would make Councils charge up to market rents where two people living in the household earn, between them, £40,000 or more. The higher the gold-chip private landlords push up their rents, the more working families will be expected to pay for their Council flats.

Ironically, a couple with a teenage son and a teenage daughter who each earn £20,000 may, now, be glad to live in a three bedroom Council flat and pay £600 a month rent (about 20% of their monthly take home pay). They may decide not to move to East Village (with its neighbourly spirit and landlord-organised events) and pay £2,240 a month rent (which would be around 75% of their take-home pay) because they may feel they can’t afford that level of rent. If the Housing Bill becomes law, the Council will start charging them not £1,400 per month (the level of the LHA, just under half their take-home pay) but £2,240 a month (75% of their take-home pay) – because landlords like GLL have driven “market” rent up to this level. The tenants in this example will be caught between a rock and a hard place: do they stay in their Council dwelling or move to East Village – both of which flats have rents they cannot possibly afford to pay. Or do they reduce the hours they work to bring their salaries down – which would keep their rent down, but increase it as a percentage of their take-home pay.

That’s why the actions of a landlord like GLL do not only affect the tenants of their properties but are going to affect the whole social structure of the East End. If we go and set up a tent city on their lawns, will they be good neighbours and organise a welcoming event for us?


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