Blog – Getting seriously social

By Dave Lakin, Director of Development & Commercial Friday 13 August 2021
A decade ago, Grand Union built 158 homes for social rent in one year. This was a watershed, we could see change was coming, after the banking crisis and subsequent recession, but looking back I didn’t realise it would be such a dramatic shift. In the decade that followed we built 1,626 affordable homes, with only 57 of these let at social rent – that’s less than six a year. The removal of grant funding from the Government for new social rent homes, along with changes to planning policy, which introduced affordable rent, resulted in this dramatic shift. These policy measures hit us almost overnight and since then we have seen average house prices and private rents in our region steadily rise above inflation and at times rapidly increase, making the prospect of finding a long-term home at a price that is affordable, very difficult. In fact, average house prices across our region are over 10 times average incomes.
“I’m proud that it also includes the target to deliver half of our new rented homes as social rent.”
In September last year, the National Housing Federation published their “People in Housing Need” report, which found that eight million people in England have some form of housing need, and that an increasing number – almost four million – require housing at social rent levels. With this in mind, we knew that we needed to find a way to build more homes of this tenure, with our aim being to get back to the numbers we built in 2011. That’s why our Board prioritised this tenure in Further together, our ambitious corporate plan. Launched just over a year ago, Further together sets out Grand Union’s aspirations and goals for 2020/23 and it builds on the strong foundations we’ve put in place during the past five years. I’m proud that it also includes the target to deliver half of our new rented homes as social rent. While this is an ambitious target, we’re working hard to achieve it. And it’s been made easier for us over the last couple of years thanks to changes to the Homes England grant programme which have enabled us to start building a pipeline of social rent homes again.   We’re already seeing it coming back with the handover of new homes, numbers are starting to pick up. One of these new homes, in the picturesque Bedfordshire village of Oakley, is home to Sian and her son Jacob. Following a change in the family dynamic, Sian, a qualified midwife, knew that renting a home privately would be out of her reach financially, so she and her 11 year-old-son Jacob spent four years sharing a home with a friend in order to keep the costs down. Thankfully she was able to move into one of our social rent homes and you can read here just how much of a difference it’s made to her and her son. It’s stories like Sian’s that prove that we’re doing the right thing in building more homes for social rent, and I’m really pleased to see more and more of them coming up in our development pipeline. As of today, we have over 200 social rent homes in our pipeline, with 89 anticipated for completion this year. Next year this grows to 132 new homes and includes some in our largest ever Extra Care scheme, Sorrel Gardens in Biggleswade (above), which is made up of 93 apartments for those over 55 with an identified care need, and 68 of which will be for social rent. At Grand Union we often say that what we do matters, and our move to build much needed social rent homes is proof of this. I hope that in a couple of years’ time we’ll have even more success stories like Sian’s which show that we’re doing our bit by building more homes, stronger communities and better lives.