The two towers of Hoxton Press are "some of the best council housing ever built", according to the Observer. Completed last year on the estate's prime location directly opposite Shoreditch Park, they are part of the regeneration of Hackney’s Colville estate and have received numerous awards and garnered rave reviews. "A model for estate redevelopment", claimed the Architects’ Journal. "Exemplary" concluded the Financial Times.
Developed by property firm Anthology, the 198 properties on sale for between £730,000 and £2.45 million have supposedly been built to help fund the affordable housing elsewhere on the scheme. We're familiar by now with this tale of cross-subsidisation, which has been used to justify the demolition of hundreds of council estates across London, including such cautionary tales as the Heygate Estate, where 950 homes for social rent were lost to the redevelopment.
So how will the story end in this "model" regeneration scheme?
The 1950s Colville estate originally contained 438 flats, of which 338 were homes for social rent when their "regeneration" was initiated in 2009. Hackney council's masterplan, designed by Karakusevic Carson Architects, is to demolish the entire estate and replace it with 925 dwellings. Of these, 476 will be for market sale, 111 for shared ownership or shared equity, and 338 for social rent, 36 percent of the total. The finished scheme, therefore, will bring a net gain of zero homes for the housing tenure type most in demand in London. The need is particularly acute in Hackney, where 12,100 households are currently on the housing waiting list and 2,700 people are homeless and living in temporary accommodation.
As a result of the scheme, the 85 leaseholders and seven freeholders on the Colville estate will lose their properties, which are being acquired by Compulsory Purchase Orders. In return, leaseholders have the Right to Return to one of the 111 intermediate properties, but have received inadequate compensation from Hackney council to do so, with one leaseholder offered £230,000 for her two-bedroom home. In comparison, properties on phase two of the scheme are on sale for between £530,000 and £830,000 – the cheaper flats still more than double the compensation money. And while the 25 percent of the £715,000 required for shared ownership of a two-bedroom property is covered, this leaseholder would have to find 2.5 percent of the value of the un-purchased shares in rent, which in her case means an additional £1,010 per month, to become no more than an assured tenant.
The regeneration of the Colville estate is being co-funded by Hackney council, the Homes and Communities Agency and the Greater London Authority. Without access to information withheld from the websites of both the council and the GLA, we can’t say how many millions of pounds of public money has been allocated to this scheme – money that could and should have been used to refurbish the council’s existing stock and build additional council homes for social rent.
VICE contacted Hackney council and the GLA to ask how much public funding they were contributing, but they didn't respond.
What we can say is that this money has not added one single home for social rent to Hackney's housing stock, and that it is instead forcing existing homeowners out of their community, with only two of the 28 leaseholders whose homes were demolished between 2009 and 2015 returning to the estate.
Worse still, during a crisis of housing affordability, Hackney council has handed over public land to private developers explicitly in order to realise its latent value by building 476 homes for market sale at the highest possible price. These will at best be purchased by households earning up to £90,000/year and therefore qualifying for the additional government subsidy of Help to Buy; but most will go to Buy to Let landlords, with half of the Hoxton Press apartments having been purchased off-plan by non-domicile investors.
Finally, there’s the question of what’s being built to rehouse the council tenants. Phase 1 of the scheme began in 2010 with the demolition of Bridport House, which was replaced the following year by an eight-storey block of 41 homes, all for social rent. These provided accommodation for some of the tenants decanted from their homes in phases 2 and 3 of the scheme – though the majority were rehoused in temporary accommodation elsewhere in the borough.
However, the award-winning Bridport House, also designed by Karkusevic-Carson Architects, has been plagued with problems since it was completed, with tiles falling off the roof, cracks opening in the brick cladding and flooding. The quick-to-assemble, cross-laminated timber construction was rushed through in order to qualify for a slice of HCA funding, and will be under scaffolding throughout 2019.
But that’s not all. What every article on this scheme has failed to report is that, across the first three phases of the scheme, 260 properties for market sale, 34 properties for shared ownership or equity, and only 154 homes for social rent have been completed. The remaining 184 social rented homes promised to tenants are yet to be built over phases 4 to 7, which the council estimates won’t be completed until 2028, almost a decade from now.
Currently, we don't know how many of those will turn out to be some form of increased "affordable" rent and shared ownership properties, or – following future viability assessments – further properties for market sale.
In 2018, Hackney council set up a Housing Property Company that allows it to rent out properties for market rent and Rent to Buy schemes. But it also has the potential to act as a future developer of properties for market sale, as councils across London are already doing with equivalent companies. As Hackney council withholds maintenance on the remaining 200 or so homes on the Colville estate, encourages residents on secure tenancies to accept rehousing elsewhere and makes leaseholders "one-off" offers to sell up and move away, how many homes for social rent or even shared ownership will Hackney be obliged to build over the next decade? And will they be as bad as Bridport House?
Time will tell. But what we can say is that the tale of the Colville estate regeneration will not end well for former residents, either socially or financially. It is most definitely not a "model" of estate redevelopment that benefits anyone other than developers, builders, architects, landlords and investors. Far from showing how luxury housing is cross-subsidising the homes Londoners need, it demonstrates, once again, that London’s estate regeneration programme is a vehicle for turning public land, public housing and public funding into private profit.
Simon Elmer is co-founder of Architects for Social Housing