Geeta Nanda, who has worked in housing for 25 years, is chief executive of Thames Valley Housing Association (TVHA), which owns or administers 14,500 properties in London and the home counties.
© Graham Hussey
A house-builder since its 1966 beginning, TVHA has built more than 10,000 homes. As well as shared-ownership housing, it offers private rentals through its new commercial venture, Fizzy Living, the profits from which go back into social housing. This month Ms Nanda was awarded an OBE for her services to social housing. She has a passionate belief in shared ownership in London.
“Of course, in our fast-growing city we need more of every type of housing,” she said. “Shared ownership is one answer. Every pound spent on affordable housing is worth £2.41 in the economy. It has a multiplier effect. So shared-ownership housing is a very good investment choice for the Government to make.”
How shared-ownership housing works
She explained that shared ownership was set up in the Eighties to help people buy their own home. Housing associations were involved in regeneration, and shared ownership was their idea of how to make housing more affordable. “It’s all about giving people a start in life — their own home, an asset that rises in value — and about giving them choice.
“For those who do not know, people buy a percentage of a property, usually 25 or 30 per cent. They pay subsidised rent on the rest, which they can buy some or all of later, which is called staircasing.
“Because shared ownership is subsidised, it allows people to live in areas that they couldn’t otherwise afford, to get on the ladder, and to stay in the same house. When I bought my first house in 1986, in Harrow — just when the market crashed — there weren’t many shared-ownership properties around. If there had been I could have bought more centrally.
“Now there are 200,000 shared-ownership homes. Most are in London and the South East, because that’s where prices are highest and so it’s where the system works best.
“London has huge numbers of low-paid workers, it could not exist without them. I believe shared ownership is the best model for people on a lower income who want to buy.
What shared-ownership homes costs work out a month
“At Thames Valley we’ve got 4,000 shared owners. The average income of a TVHA owner is £28,000-£30,000 a year, which means that they wouldn’t be able to buy on the open market.”
In London, the average first-time-buyer’s home costs £333,000, for which the deposit is £66,000 and income £76,000, said Ms Nanda. But with shared ownership, the average property cost is £240,000, the deposit £18,500 and the income £33,000. “It works out — on average — costing £857 a month, which makes it accessible. If there are two of you, you can even be earning £15,000-£20,000 a year each and still be able to buy.
“I think the real benefit is that it allows people to settle down, it offers stability, it gives a connection to the local area. Even though you don’t own the whole thing, you might later on. Each year about three per cent go to full ownership.”
Home ownership is good for health, for education and for the economy, she pointed out. New research shows that four out of five employers worry that their staff can’t afford to live where they work. “So the lack of affordable housing is choking the economy. Seventy per cent of employers said that lack of housing affects their ability to keep their employees, so it is crucial that workers have houses within a reasonable commute from their jobs.
London's housing shortage
“There’s not enough shared-ownership housing to go around. We’re just not building enough. There’s been a big push to build more market housing but we need more affordable housing too — the people who need it are the engine of the economy. We could build twice as much shared housing as there is now.”
The profile of people buying has changed, she added. “Today, shared-ownership homes are bought by aspirational, demanding young Londoners. They demand high-quality kitchens, good design and good views. And architects are taking on the challenges of effective space, and the cost of living, using effective insulation to keep utility bills low. Shared-ownership homes tend to be in regeneration, injecting youth and energy into the areas too, such as Battersea, King’s Cross — great places to live. We have just done some in Twickenham, and they sell within days.
“Boris Johnson’s idea of ring-fencing property taxes raised in London and using them to build more homes is excellent. London is a global city and we should think of it that way.
“If we tax empty properties held by foreign investors at a higher rate, they’ll still invest here — and we could reinvest the money in affordable housing.
“If I was running the country and could do just one thing, it would be to increase property tax in London and put it into affordable housing, along with speeding up planning to make it faster and easier to build new housing. It just makes sense to me.”
Rent in London through the Fizzy Living scheme
Thames Valley Housing Association provides homes for key workers to rent, as well as shared-ownership homes. “We saw there wasn’t much available in the private rental sector and wanted to create something more like they have on the Continent and in the US, where there’s more security of tenure, where people aren’t chucked out, and where the flats are professionally managed and repairs get done,” said Geeta Nanda.
“That’s why last year we launched a commercial subsidiary called Fizzy Living to offer good-quality private rentals, near transport, with equal-sized bedrooms for sharers and good security. The profits go back into social housing.
“We bought three schemes, in Epsom, Canning Town and Poplar. We’ve got a young chef living at Fizzy Canning Town, earning only £14,500. Fizzy Epsom has a few flats available. We’ve designed a build-to-let with architects HTA, so the next stage is to buy land so we can build that as part of the Fizzy scheme.” Visit fizzyliving.com
As well as shared ownership, there are several other schemes aimed at helping people to buy homes. Details can be found at gov.uk/affordable-home-ownership-schemes
Alternatively, approach housing associations in your area, or look online.
Thames Valley Housing Association is at tvha.co.uk where you can find lots of information.