Such a good idea, those affordable home things, mentioned so frequently by politicians and campaigners. They're brilliant. They're brilliant because, well it's obvious isn't it? People can afford to pay them. Can't they?
But here’s the problem. Define affordable. What I can afford to pay is very different to what a Russian oligarch can find behind the sofa or on the table by the door. Rich people can afford to pay a lot. Poor people; not so much.
Affordable rent certainly isn't 80% of market rents. This is the new bar introduced by the Tory's very own village idiot in residence Grant Shapps (he makes stupid people feel ever so clever.) It's just that when market rents in London are rising so fast and so high I need oxygen to look them up, the whole phrase is meaningless and pointless (just like Shapps, actually.)
Social housing used to be well-built, secure (until the bedroom tax, tenants could stay forever) and within reach of everyone. Now there are moves to force social housing providers to charge 80% of market rents for housing association homes. Claimants who rent soon find out that under local housing allowance (paid, let's not forget to those on low, not just no pay) 'affordable' is dictated by whimsical notions of local average rents, which can be one price on one side of the road; different on the other.
LHA sets a limit on how much rent is covered by benefits, and the level is very low - so much so that properties priced within the limits are sometimes in great demand. This exemplifies the law of unintended consequences.
Which means that if you rent, and lose your job, your hours are cut or you fall ill after having lived in a 'nice' area - close to where children go to school, near jobs and transport links, you could be penalised. Councils cling to their Discretionary Housing Payment budgets like your granny did her pension purse, so claim it but don’t expect too much. If you don't earn more money or find a job, you will have to move. Which, as I repeatedly argue here is never easy: vans, fees, storage, fares... it all adds up.
Which means that affordable means whatever owners can get away with, or the sum that agents cajole them into demanding. For many people, boom times, recovery or resurgence are far away. Life is precarious and insecure with zero hours contracts, extended probationary periods and the tenant threatened with redundancy.
Affordable for those with several low-paid jobs, corralled into dubious self-employment, with the threat of universal credit (if it ever comes in) makes life unbearably tenuous for everyone. Affordable must be reset. It must mean a proportion of average pay, and pay is falling in real terms. Because maybe then, those huddled in fear at the bottom could afford to live in nicer places.
Affordability will change drastically if you lose your job. But if rents start to become more realistic, then life will settle down, tenants will enjoy security; they will be less likely to move, meaning no voids for owners. True affordability leads to stability, and in housing stability equals happiness.