IS LEWES POSH AND RICH?
A lot of people think so, but they are less than half right: the town is divided very sharply between the prosperous and the struggling. The disparity between wages and rents in the District is one of the very largest in the country. Well-paying jobs are at a premium, social housing has been cut sharply, and many people simply cannot afford to rent privately, even on Housing Benefit, because of the additional cost of a deposit and the extra fees many agents impose.
A mere 30% of people offered a loan by a local homelessness charity, to be used for a deposit and the first month’s rent, actually take up the offer; the evidence is that they cannot find anywhere suitable, or are rejected for want of a guarantor with £30,000 p/a – or simply for being on benefits.
Lewes District Council and Santon are less than open about what exactly they would do about ‘affordable housing’ in the 400 or so homes proposed on the ‘North Street Quarter’ development. We simply do not know how many units they would provide, or what the rent would be, and we don’t think they know either. The 40% ‘desired’ in the Local Plan is unlikely to be achieved – affordable housing numbers shrink as developments progress and other costs and profit take priority – and in any case, the vast majority of this housing will be at an unaffordable 80% of market rate.
We believe the only way to ensure genuine affordability is for us, the local community, to build and deliver homes ourselves. The Lewes Phoenix Rising masterplan for the Phoenix Estate demonstrates that it is possible to build a further 48 homes at genuinely affordable rents – around 50% of market price – for the people who most need them. These are part of our plan for a community development of the 3.5 acres of Phoenix Place for homes and work space, as part of the wider site. We will build 1- and 2-bed units, some of them live/work, because these are the homes in shortest supply.
We can carry out these plans at reasonable rents by using ethical investment and tried and tested modern sustainable building technologies that both reduce costs and allow flexibility of design, self-finish and high energy efficiency. Our homes will not be sold to private purchasers, but will remain assets for the people of Lewes District, using income as a criterion for occupation.
We are all local people, and we want the town and the district to flourish. Low-cost homes and workspace will keep our town socially and economically diverse and enable it, and us, to thrive.
Trustee, Lewes Phoenix Rising
Trustee, Lewes HomeLink (charity for the homeless)