Affordable Housing & Viability: London Leads

Full credit to Sadiq Khan for pressing ahead with his heavily trailed draft Affordable Housing and Viability SPG  despite the Government’s inexplicable delay in publishing the Housing White Paper (whatever its contents prove to be). The deadline for consultation responses to the draft SPG is 28 February 2017. As the draft warns, when the Government’s detailed proposals in relation to starter homes are published, presumably as part of the white paper, there will be knock-on implications for the SPG – after how can the percentages in the draft SPG possibly survive the imposition of a mandatory starter homes top slice?
The SPG will be guidance rather than policy (although I suspect that the distinction may over time prove largely semantic when non compliant schemes come before the Mayor for sign off) and LPAs are “strongly encouraged” to follow it for schemes of ten or more dwellings. The SPG will supersede section 3.3 (Build to Rent) and Part 5 (Viability) of the March 2016 housing SPG. The rest of that SPG remains current. It will inform the drafting of the new London Plan, a consultation draft of which is expected in Autumn 2017. 
What follows will become very familiar I’m sure to all of us negotiating London section 106 agreements. The level of prescription may prove helpful in narrowing the scope for re-inventing the wheel, subject to the attitude that LPAs take to what after all is only draft non-statutory guidance. 
The ‘threshold’ approach
The draft SPG introduces a ‘threshold approach’, whereby schemes meeting or exceeding 35% (by habitable room) affordable housing without public subsidy will not be required to submit viability information. 
Schemes are divided into “route A” and “route B”. 

Route A schemes are:
. applications which do not meet the 35% threshold and required tenure split;

• applications which propose affordable housing off-site or as cash in lieu contribution; 

• applications which involve demolition of existing affordable housing (in particular estate regeneration schemes); 

• applications where the applicant claims the vacant building credit applies. 

Route B schemes are schemes which meet the 35% threshold and required tenure split (and which do not otherwise fall within the route A scheme definition above). Viability appraisal is not required, although there will be an “early review mechanism … triggered if an agreed level of progress is not made within two years of permission being granted” (the agreed level of progress being defined at the outset in the section 106 agreement).
The required tenure split
The required tenure split is:
– “at least 30% low cost rent (social rent or affordable rent) with rent set at levels that the LPA considers ‘genuinely affordable’ (this will generally be significantly less than 80% market rent). As part of [the] consultation, LPAs are being invited
to give guidance on what rent levels they consider to be genuinely affordable if above the benchmarks for London Affordable Rent”.
– “at least 30% as intermediate products, with London Living Rent … and/ or shared ownership being the default tenures assumed in this category. For viability purposes, London Living Rent homes in mixed-tenure schemes can be treated similarly to shared ownership, as it can be assumed that they will be sold on a shared ownership basis after a period of 10 years”.

– the remaining 40% is to be determined by the relevant LPA but must be “genuinely affordable”.

“London Living Rent is a new type of intermediate affordable housing that will help, through low rents on time-limited tenancies, households with around average earnings save for a deposit to buy their own home”. It has “ward-level caps … based on one-third of median gross household income for the local borough. The cap varies from the Borough median by up to 20 per cent in line with house prices within the ward”. The Mayor intends to limit eligibility for London Living Rent and other intermediate rent products to households on incomes of £60,000 a year or less, down from £90,000. 

“[F]or intermediate dwellings to be considered affordable, annual housing costs, including mortgage (assuming reasonable interest rates and deposit requirements), rent and service charges should be no greater than 40% of net household income. 
For shared ownership properties, to ensure mortgage costs assumptions are reasonable, boroughs, developers and registered provides are advised to assume buyers will access RPs, with a term of 25 years and a 90% loan to value ratio. The prevailing average interest rate being offered to lenders based on the terms above should be used to calculate the monthly payments. Generally shared ownership is not appropriate where unrestricted market values of a unit exceed £600,000”. 
Viability appraisal
Viability appraisal will be required to following a prescriptive approach, set out in part 3 of the draft. In relation to some familiar areas for dispute:
– “The price the RP has agreed to pay for each unit should be used in the viability appraisal and should be enshrined in the Section 106 agreement (for phased schemes the price in the Section 106 should be inflation linked)”.

– It should be assumed that all developers will incur generic average finance costs based on standard market rates.

– The IRR approach will not generally be appropriate for schemes of fewer than 1,000 units. 

– The benchmark value will be based on an existing Use Value plus premium (EUV+) approach, rather than the circularity of a market value approach. The Mayor will generally only accept an Alternative Use Value (AUV) approach where there is an existing implementable permission for that use.

The Mayor expects “all information to be made public, including council and third party assessments. Applicants will have the opportunity to argue that limited elements should be kept undisclosed, but the onus is on the applicant to make this case”. 

Review mechanisms
Section 106 agreements for route A schemes will need to require a two stage review mechanism:
– An “early review” where an agreed level of progress with the scheme is not made within two years of the permission being granted. Any surplus to be split 60/40 between the LPA and the developer and any surplus identified to translate into additional onsite affordable housing. “Thus plans should identify which units would switch to affordable accommodation in the event of an increase in viability at this early stage. If the agreed level of progress has been made, this review will not be triggered. All signatories to the Section 106 need to commit to making their best endeavours to fulfil their relevant requirements (setting out key milestones and requirements) to deliver the scheme and account may be had of the market situation at time of review”. 

– A “near end of development review which will be applied once 75% of units are sold. Where a surplus profit is identified this should be split 60/40 between the LPA and developer. The outcome of this review will typically be a financial contribution towards off-site affordable housing provision”. 

– The surplus is applied up to a total of 50% affordable housing.

The review should consider changes in gross development value and build costs using formulae set out in Appendix A to the draft SPG and which should be set out in the section 106 agreement. 
Build To Rent
Specific favourable provisions apply to Build To Rent, defined as complying with the following criteria:
“• a development, or block/ phase within a development, of at least 50 units; 

• the homes to be held as Build to Rent under a covenant for at least 15 years; 

• all units to be self-contained and let separately; 

• unified ownership and unified management of the development; 

• professional and on-site management; 

• longer tenancies offered (ideally three years or more) with defined in-tenancy rent reviews; and 

• property manager to be part of an accredited Ombudsman Scheme and a member of a recognised professional body”.

The Build To Rent restriction should usually be by way of section 106 agreement and should include a clawback mechanism if the units cease to be used for Build To Rent purposes. Two potential, alternative , clawback mechanisms are being consulted upon:
– to seek to recoup the initial loss of affordable housing if the homes are sold out of the Build to Rent sector, based on an appraisal submitted at application stage showing the reduced number of affordable homes possible due to the Build To Rent model. 

– a clawback to secure a total of 35% affordable housing. 

Affordable housing within Build To Rent schemes can be by way of discounted market rent (DMR), managed by the private sector landlord. The Mayor is seeking that the DMR be at London Living Rent. 
Some relaxation of space standards may be acceptable for Build To Rent products, particularly where they are subject to a longterm covenant that they will remain as Build To Rent. 
Differences are recognised in the approach to viability for Build To Rent schemes. Particularly:
“a different approach to profit (often lower than a build for sale scheme); 
• different approaches to sales and marketing; 

• rate of sale/disposal – this will generally be faster for a Build to Rent scheme (generally a build to rent appraisal will assume a development period and then a sale to an investor or operator); and 

• potentially lower risk compared to for sale schemes”. 

Finally, the Mayor is keen to secure the following five management standards:

“- Longer tenancies (three years or more) should be available to all tenants. These should have break clauses for renters, which allow the tenant to end the tenancy with a month’s notice any time after the first six months. 

– Within these tenancies there should be formula-linked rent increases. The LPA should not stipulate the level of rent increases on market rate tenancies, but these should be made clear to the tenant when the property is let and LPAs should ensure they are not set to discourage tenants from taking longer tenancies. Rents should normally be reset on each new tenancy.

– There must be on-site management. This does not necessarily have to mean
full time dedicated on-site staff in every case, as this could be unviable and unnecessary on small schemes. However all schemes need to have prompt issue resolution systems and some daily onsite presence.

– Providers must have a complaints procedure in place and be a member of
a recognised ombudsman scheme. They must also have membership of a designated professional body, such as the British Property Federation or Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors.

– Finally, properties must be advertised on the GLA’s London-wide portal, in due course, which can be in addition to any advertising the provider may already be undertaking”.

Registered providers/grant funding

Applicants are encouraged to have registered providers on board at pre-application stage. 
The Mayor’s grant funding will only be available for route B applications if it increases the proportion of affordable housing above the nil-grant position to a level of 40% or more.
“The Mayor’s Homes for Londoners: Affordable Homes Programme 2016-2021, sets out how grant is going to be used to increase the amount of affordable housing delivered on developer-led sites above 35%, and to support approved providers deliver programmes with at least 50% affordable housing”. 

Concluding thoughts

In 2015 private sector schemes only delivered on average 13% affordable housing. Will this approach nudge the percentage upwards? This largely depends on whether developers believe that to button down 35%, with no review as long as development is not delayed, and with no need for viability appraisal, is sufficiently achievable or attractive. If it isn’t then it will be business as usual, with viability appraisals submitted to seek to secure a significantly lower percentage. 

How will LPAs react, particularly those inclined to hold out for the 50% target? And how will the imposition of a mandatory proportion of starter homes impact on this nuanced, London-specific approach?

Is the Mayor’s target of 50% now unachievable by flagging 35% as in practice acceptable or can the use of public land and grant funding make any appreciable difference?

Pass. But at least the likely structure of section 106 agreements for route A, route B and Build To Rent schemes (or rather the Mayor’s starting position) is increasingly clear. Which means, if the approaches are commercially palatable, faster permissions and less delay to development (particularly with the spectre of reviews triggered by delayed implementation). And:

Mayor of London: 1

Secretary of State: nil.
Simon Ricketts 1.12.16
Personal views, et cetera

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