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West End Extra - FORUM: Opinion in the WEE
Published: 27 November 2009
Councillor Paul Dimoldenberg is leader of the Labour Group at Westminster City Council
Go flat-out to help families first

The Tories’ proposal to buy up one-bed flats in Westminster to offer at subsidised rent will fail to solve our overcrowding issues, argues Paul Dimoldenberg

Westminster Conservatives have launched another eye-catching initiative aimed at grabbing the headlines.
This latest publicity-seeking stunt proposes to use public money to subsidise single working people who earn up to £30,000 to rent a one-bed flat.
The newspaper headlines revealed that the council has spent £250,000 buying a one-bed flat in Orsett Terrace, Bayswater, and plans to rent it out to a single person earning £30,000 a year for a subsidised rent of £120 per week. On top of that the Conservatives plan to give them a free £2,500 “bonus” – of your money – after five years.
In all, the council plans to spend £7million buying one-bed flats so that it can rent them out to young people earning up to £30,000 a year. The council says it wants to help these people to buy their first home by offering low-rent flats so that they can save for a mortgage.
Anyone can apply. You don’t even have to live in Westminster or be in housing need!
The council reckons that, with a subsidised rent of £120 a week, the lucky few could save around £20,000 after five years and put that money towards a deposit of a flat in Westminster.
Laudable as this might seem, there are no requirements to ensure that the lucky few single people who get these massively subsidised flats save any money at all to build up a mortgage deposit. Nor are there any requirements that they put the free £2,500 bonus from the council towards a mortgage deposit.
And, of course, let’s not forget about the very strong possibility that some people may sub-let their flat at premium rents, a feature of some council and housing association tenancies in Westminster and elsewhere.
To reassure us, Westminster Council says it plans an annual visit to check that the lucky single person still lives in the flat paying the subsidised rent.
It is so touching how trusting – and gullible – the Conservatives can be! But the real failure of this crazy housing plan is the impact that it will have on people in real housing need.
There is a massive need for the council to acquire more family-sized accommodation, rather than one-bed flats.
Families are in the greatest need and, surely, at a time of financial pressure, families should have priority?
Labour councillors regularly deal with families in the most shocking overcrowded conditions and are regularly told by council staff that there is nothing that can be done for them in Westminster.
People in dire housing need are told that the only option for them is temporary accommodation miles away in east London, far from friends, work, schools and family.
Yet, the very same Conservative council is now spending millions of pounds of public money buying expensive one-bed flats in Westminster to house people who have very little contact with Westminster, other than (alongside over a million others) they happen to work in Westminster.
Has the world gone mad? Or is it the Conservatives, with their warped priorities, who are at fault here?

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