The ‘Mirror’ reports;
Westminster City Council was notorious for a huge Right to Buy scandal in the 1980s, when Tory leader Dame Shirley Porter was found to have sold off council homes to likely Tory voters. The cost to the taxpayer at the time was roughly £27 million.
Now, to tackle its crisis in affordable housing, the council has set up a charitable company called Westminster Community Homes. The company has spent £90.74 million buying back 295 ex-council homes, at an average cost of £307,593.
A Mirror investigation has found that the prices being paid to buy back the homes are up to 22 times more than they were sold for.
Land Registry documents show that in 1987 one flat in Fulmer House, Westminster was sold to a tenant for £11,700, a discount at the time of £27,300. The same property was bought back by Westminster Community Homes in 2011 for £260,500 – a loss on paper of £248,800.
A second property in Brinklow House, where the council has bought back more than a dozen ex-council flats, was sold to a tenant in 1990 for £53,025. It was bought back for the council in 2011 for £750,000.
Pauline Kamli, 57, bought her flat in a third block with her husband in 1987 for £19,110, a discount at the time of £26,390. Twenty-two years later, she sold the flat back to Westminster Community Homes for £327,000 – a capital gain of £307,890.
She told the Mirror: “I went to a local estate agent. I knew the local authority was looking for larger properties. They are always giving council tenants the opportunity to downsize.”
“By that time I had been widowed and my only child had moved out. I didn’t want a four-bedroomed maisonette. They paid the market price.”
Pauline has done nothing wrong but is this a sensible way to tackle the housing crisis?
David Cameron’s new policy could force Westminster to sell the properties off all over again.
David Cameron is promising a massive expansion of “right-to-buy” to 1.3m new households, including housing associations, if he wins next week’s election. It is unclear whether Westminster Community Homes will be forced to sell these properties off for a second time.
A Westminster Community Homes spokesman said: “These acquisitions have increased the supply of affordable homes in Westminster, where the average two-bedroom flat costs almost £1 million, making more homes available to people in housing need.”
But Councillor Paul Dimoldenberg, leader of the Labour Group at Westminster City Council, said:
“This is the ultimate proof that Conservative housing policies have failed and are financial madness.
“Spending over £90 million of public money buying back properties that were sold for a fraction of that demonstrates the scale of the housing crisis and the folly of selling off so many council properties without building any replacement flats.
“Instead, the £90 million should have been spent on building new council flats on council-owned land to increase the total number of homes for those in housing need.”
He added that the council’s claim that a two-bed flat in Westminster costs £1 million is “complete and utter nonsense”. One two-bed ex-council flat in the borough is currently being advertised for £425,000.