By Melody David
The chancellor’s new ‘Help to Buy’ scheme, offering prospective buyers up to 20% of the value of their new-build home and mortgage guarantees for those with small deposits, aims to make it easier for people to buy their own homes. But while these incentives are meant to help many first-time buyers get on the property ladder, available housing in places such as Brixton is rapidly being snapped up by investors who want to let, not live here, forcing house prices into stratospheric heights for local residents.
This year’s arrival of a Foxtons branch on Brixton Road signals the beginning and the end – the end of Brixton’s reputation as an undesirable area to live in and the beginning of a mass exodus of local Brixton residents. In fact it is now one of the most desirable places to live in the Capital; even developers Barrrats are building a gated block of apartments inappropriately named ‘Brixton Square’. Situated opposite the Somerleyton estate, one of the most deprived housing areas in Brixton, Barratts describes their properties as ‘great homes, but they also make fantastic buy to let investments’. And herein lies the problem; new build homes in Brixton are being sold at an alarming rate to those wishing to cash in on the lucrative buy-to-let market, instead of local people searching for their first time home. Gentrification of inner city areas such as Brixton has a direct effect for their long-standing working class residents. With an influx of young professionals renting in these areas, house prices have seen a dramatic increase with Brixton seeing the highest price increases in London in the period of 1999-2002. In 2012 survey, Lambeth was ranked as the 13th most expensive borough in London to live in.
Take Keisha Thompson, a 27 year-old woman, born and raised in Brixton. She has been saving for a deposit for nearly three years only to find that she is being priced out of her beloved hometown because houses are being sold for far more than she can afford. In 2012, the average price of a flat in Lambeth was £321, 639. She’s now looking into other areas such as Deptford, Woolwich and even as far as Kent in order to be able to afford the 5% deposit required for the scheme. ‘It’s sad that I can’t afford a house where I grew up because it’s become so unaffordable, why should I have to leave?’ Sadly this is the story of many of my long-standing Brixton peers searching for a home in the area they were raised. The majority of those on the property ladder are have moved to Greater London suburbs and the Home Counties.
Although the Help to Buy scheme isn’t available for those wishing to buy in order to let, its effectiveness would be felt more greatly if the government gave priority to long standing residents of inner city boroughs. Perhaps by offering a bigger loan percentage for local people and ensuring they are given priority over new residents they can avoid the impending decimation of the heritage in these areas.
Capping the number of buy-to-let investors in an area along with the opportunity to buy old builds would be welcome too. After all I didn’t grow up in Brixton dreaming of a shiny cookie cutter Barratts home, no offence. It was the terraced Victorian house on Holmewood Road with a green box hedge and window seats that I longed to buy, but now priced at a whopping £562,829 I might as well forget that dream.
Rising house prices, tighter social housing and benefit laws means an exodus of original residents; people who take a piece of Brixton’s culture with them when they leave. This will directly affect local businesses; changing the landscape of independent stores and restaurants that makes Brixton such a vibrant and diverse community. After all, who wants Brixton to become a stark new-build haven consumed by new residents milling around in chain stores and chain restaurants such as Foxtons and Starbucks? Certainly not me.
Melody David tweets at @MelodysNotebook