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19 May 2019

London Living Rent: can you benefit from this affordable housing scheme?

And what are your alternatives?

In May 2017, Mayor Sadiq Khan launched London Living Rent, an affordable housing scheme to help middle-income Londoners onto the property ladder. But two years on, are any properties on the market?

Promising below-market rents and the chance to buy your rental home, London Living Rent is an optimistic project that aims to tackle rising house prices.

But you may have to wait a little longer to actually benefit. Currently, the Mayor of London's 'Homes for Londoners' search portal - a hub for affordable housing in the city - has just one listing for properties available through London Living Rent: a yet-to-be-built development in Merton.

So, is London Living Rent a realistic option? And what are the alternatives for Londoners who can't afford to buy in the expensive capital?

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What is Rent to Buy?

London Living Rent shares many features with Rent to Buy - a government initiative aimed at helping renters become homeowners.

Rent to Buy schemes offer lower-than-market rents, and give tenants the chance to buy their rental home, or a share in it, at a later date.

The theory is that lower rental payments will help tenants save for a deposit, which many struggle with in the pricey London property market.

The scheme is run by local Help to Buy agents, which let users search for Rent to Buy properties in their region.

Through our own searches, we could only find a small number of property listings across England (where Rent to Buy operates). Most of them were in the North East and Yorkshire and the Humber.

London Living Rent: how it works

With skyrocketing rents and the most expensive property prices in the country, London Living Rent is a natural fit for the city.

To be eligible for the scheme, you must:

  • be currently renting in London
  • have a household income of £60,000 or under
  • be unable to buy a home (including through shared ownership) in your area.

Rents are set at one-third of each local authority's average earnings, based on ONS data, adjusted for the number of bedrooms. According to City Hall, this is a 'significant discount to the market level rent' in most boroughs.

While many London renters in this income bracket will be able to buy shared ownership properties, London Living Rent gives a leg up to those who can't afford them.

Yet while the scheme is currently active, the London Living Rent website predicts the majority of homes won't be available until 2021.

According to the Mayor of London's Homes for Londoners search portal, only one development in Merton is currently offering it. And this is listed as 'coming soon'.

Wandle, the housing association behind the development, told Which? that the complex will include eight homes - seven of which would be available through London Living Rent (the other will be sold under shared ownership). They expect building work to be completed in June.

Find out more:affordable housing - can you buy below market value?

More London Living Rent homes are being built

Though scarce at the moment, the Mayor of London's office assured Which? that more new-build London Living Rent homes are on the way.

This was backed up by a number of housing associations we spoke to.

A spokesperson for the Mayor of London told us: 'London Living Rent is a new sort of affordable home that was introduced through the Mayor's funding programme.

'The first homes started to be built two years ago, and in that first year 569 new London Living Rent homes got underway. These new homes and those in following years take some time to be completed and let to tenants, and Sadiq has always been honest that making a difference will take time.'

While the new homes will no doubt make a difference, two housing associations who previously completed London Living Rent projects told Which? that demand far outstripped supply.

Lukman Ahmed, PRS and commercial director at L&Q, told us that 1,000 people applied for the 243 homes they currently let through the scheme. Ahmed also said that L&Q has around 300 more units earmarked for London Living Rent in the future.

David Gooch, executive director of development at Network Homes, told us it had over 2,000 applicants for the 23 London Living Rent properties it launched in Harrow in 2018, and that it is in the final stages of completing some more in Hounslow.

It seems then, that London Living Rent is still picking up steam. But far more homes will need to be completed to cater for everyone who applies.

What are the alternatives for affordable housing in London?

Fortunately for those who can't take advantage of London Living Rent homes right now, there are other options for affordable housing in the city.

London Help to Buy

London Help to Buy is a government scheme that lets homebuyers in Greater London apply for an equity loan of up to 40% of a property's value.

It's open to first-time buyers looking to move into a new-build property worth less than £600,000. You'll need to save 5% of the deposit yourself.

The equity loan enables you to take out a mortgage at 55% of the property value, potentially enabling you to borrow more at a lower interest rate.

However, keep in mind that after five years, you'll need to either pay back the equity loan, or start paying interest.

Shared ownership

While London Living Rent homes may be few and far between, Homes for Londoners lists hundreds of properties available under shared ownership across the city.

With shared ownership, you buy between 25% and 75% of a property from a housing association and pay rent of up to 3% on the rest.

To buy your share, you can apply for a mortgage.

Currently, you can buy a 25% share in a one-bedroom apartment in Hackney for £107,500.If you took out a 95% mortgage to cover the rest, you'd need £5,375 in deposit.

In contrast, a 95% mortgage to cover the full price would require a deposit of £21,500.

That being said, it can be difficult to get a shared ownership mortgage. And you'll have to make sure you can afford to pay the combined total of rent and monthly mortgage repayments, as well as any service charges.

Read our guide for more on how shared ownership works, or watch our short video for a brief overview:

London Affordable Rent

Designed for low-income households, London Affordable Rent homes are let at no more than 80% of local market rents, with service charges included. The Greater London Authority (GLA) benchmarks the maximum level these rents can be.

The weekly rent maximums for this year can be found in this table:

Bedsit and one bedroom£155.13
Two bedrooms£164.24
Three bedrooms£173.37
Four bedrooms£182.49
Five bedrooms£191.61
Six or more bedrooms£200.73

Source: London Assembly

Since London Affordable Rent homes are a kind of social housing, you'll have to apply through your local borough.

Social and council housing

If you're unable to afford anywhere to live, you may qualify for social housing.

The mayor recently revealed that in 2018-19, City Hall started building the highest number of London council homes in 34 years, and more homes than ever before at social rent levels.

However, you'll have to put your name on your local borough's waiting list to apply. On top of this, many boroughs have strict eligibility criteria to decide how to allocate these homes.

After you've lived in the property for a number of years, you may become eligible for Right to Buy, allowing you to purchase your home.

Get personalised advice on saving for your first home

If you're looking to buy an affordable property in London, or anywhere else in the country, an independent mortgage broker can help you get the best mortgage for your circumstances.

They will also be able to advise you while you're saving, and point you in the direction of schemes that could help.