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Friday, 21 June, 2002, 11:34 GMT 12:34 UK
Wealthy only welcome
An Englishman's home may be his castle, but many middle-income Londoners are discovering that even a hovel is beyond their means, as Georgina Pattinson reports
In 1979 the average house in London cost £25,793.
Today, that figure has risen to £214,000 and low-to-middle wage earners are being squeezed out of the market.
While we remain a nation of house-buyers, middle-income workers will flee the city to look elsewhere for a home they can afford.
It is a problem that has not escaped Mayor Ken Livingstone who launched his "London Plan" on Friday.
The plan has ambitious new targets - including the proviso that 50% of all new dwellings should be affordable.
That means that two thirds of London boroughs - including property hotspots like Westminster and Kensington and Chelsea - would have to ensure that half of new housing developments contain homes that nurses and teachers could buy.
Hannah, who is 26, and her partner have decided to move out of London to Hertfordshire.
She is starting at teacher training college in the autumn and cannot afford to rent - let alone buy - in London on the kind of money she will earn.
"We weighed up the extra travel cost versus the better accommodation - and chose to move out of London.
"We inquired about getting a mortgage but we would have needed at least a £10,000 deposit to buy anything in London, or else we would have had to go for a 100% mortgage and the repayments on that were even more than our current rent."
Lisa Wimborne from the National Housing Federation's London office says even people on incomes of £40-50,000 a year are struggling.
"If you're looking to buy a family house in London there's little choice unless you are on the property ladder or you earn a massive amount of money.
"You can't have a city where only the wealthy or the very poor can afford to live."
The National Institute of Social and Economic Research estimates that 60,000 key workers will leave the capital over the next 10 years.
The Mayor has encouraged the speeding-up of planning applications.
"There are increasing numbers of development opportunities arising in and around outer London which should boost house building rates, and boroughs are taking an increasingly imaginative approach to what can be achieved," Mr Livingstone says.
One such example is the £27m contract recently announced by Berkeley Homes and Threshold Housing and Support for a shared ownership scheme in Chelsea Bridge Wharf.
Rich and 'poor' will live side by side - the project will provide 166 apartments for key workers who would otherwise not dream of looking in fashionable Battersea for a home.
Residents pay a mixture of mortgage and rent which gives them the chance, eventually, to own the property.
"This project will help to create a genuinely all-inclusive community at Chelsea Bridge Wharf," says Alisdair Chant, managing director of Berkeley Partnership Homes.
More than 20,000 households in London now live in such schemes and organisations like the National Housing Federation lobby for more.
And what about existing sites and properties?
"In London, there's the issue about making the best use of brownfield sites," says Lisa Wimborne.
"We need to make better use of London with cleverer designs. We need homes above shops and supermarkets."
Vincent Square on Vauxhall Bridge Road in Westminster is one new example - a block of flats built above a petrol station.
The Mayor has also called for empty homes to be reused - there are more than 100,000 standing empty in London.
It is estimated that about 66,000 homes could be created by converting empty shops, offices and other buildings for residential use.
Last September the government announced that £250 million had been allocated to the Starter Home Initiative budget, designed to help key workers buy their first home.
A £4m project is under way to provide pre-fabricated homes on public land, and architects have even suggested converting cargo holds to plug the housing gap.
Each container costs about £1,000 and two placed side-by-side make a decent flat.
Or a pigeon-infested derelict public toilet is to be converted into a £135,000 starter home - the two-storey Edwardian lavatory block in south-east London is being turned into a split-level studio flat.
Otherwise, buyers will just have to trawl the estate agents.
Foxtons - a middle-range estate agent in central London - should have one or two properties on its books under £100,000.
Er, make that one.
And by the time you're reading this, it has probably been snapped up.
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