Still desperate for a des res?

7th May 2004 at 01:00
How can young teachers afford to live in the capital? Anne Horner meets some who have managed

F or a new teacher, finding affordable, desirable accommodation in London is a tall order, especially if you've already run up debts of thousands of pounds during your training.

But the situation is easing. Higher salaries, cheaper rents and the proliferation of government, local authority and housing association schemes have helped.

Supply has outstripped demand, so rents have fallen in London, according to the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors. Even so, the average monthly rent for a two-bedroom flat in the capital is still pound;1,440.

"Rents have been falling now for about two years due to a general economic downturn in the City and an increase in buy-to-let investors," says a spokesman for the institute.

The teacher recruitment crisis of four years ago has also eased. At its height, 25 per cent of new teachers were leaving the profession within three years, a situation described by the then chief inspector of schools Mike Tomlinson as the worst teacher shortage for 40 years.

The Government has invested pound;220 million in the Challenge Fund to build homes in the South East for key workers to rent. A government scheme to recruit and retain key workers in the capital, the starter home initiative, has helped 8,000 professionals to find homes. Some 40 per cent of those who have benefited are teachers.

The original scheme ended on March 31 this year, to be replaced by the new key worker living scheme, details of which are currently being ironed out.

Some pound;1 billion is to be spent over three years. Of that cash, pound;610 million will be offered over the next two years in open market purchases so that key workers can find homes via high street agents.

Up to 500 teachers a year will benefit from pound;100,000 higher value equity loans. Properties will also be available to rent at below-market rates, but prices will be higher than for social housing.

So, has the initiative had a great impact on new teachers so far? "I think not," says recruitment expert Professor John Howson. "The biggest difference is that rental rates have slowed down and declined in London.

Most young teachers are not in a position to buy."

With the average price of a terraced house in Greater London at pound;271,000, and the budget option, a flat, at pound;222,000, it is unlikely that many new teachers with average starting salaries of pound;23,000 in inner London and pound;22,000 in outer London will be able to take on a mortgage, even with a loan deal.

Alison Baker, recruitment strategy manager for Hammersmith and Fulham, says that 50 teachers in the borough have bought through the starter home initiative.

"SHI is best for people who have a couple of years' experience who know they want to stay in the area," she says.

"Most have a partner or are buying with somebody else. They are a little bit older, with three to eight years' teaching experience."

One of the first education authorities to act was Barking and Dagenham, which had one of the worst problems with recruitment and retention of any London borough in the early 1990s. It paid to convert a garage block into 54 flats for teachers. Weekly rents ranging from pound;60 for a small room to pound;111 for a double room are subsidised by the council and priority is always given to new teachers.

Carole Thomas, an advisory headteacher in the borough and the person with responsibility for recruitment and retention, says: "I think we were the only London borough with purpose-built accommodation for teachers at the time. It was quite a good selling point for us."

Certainly, it helped to lure teachers. "It has encouraged young teachers from outside London to come and live in the area," she says.

Councils across London are now geared up to help new teachers. In Hammersmith and Fulham, all teachers are eligible for a loan of up to pound;1,500 to help them pay their first month's deposit and rent.

As a result, new teacher Clare Otter, 23, found her des res - a balcony flat five minutes' walk from Earls Court tube in west London which she rents through the Peabody Estates housing association.

The flat is on the fringes of central London, although she pays just pound;357 a month. On the open market the two-bed property she shares with a fellow new teacher would cost up to pound;1,500 a month each.

When Ms Otter got her first job at Bentworth primary in Hammersmith, she contacted the council. "I was looking at flat shares at about pound;600 a month. I started to get quite depressed," she says.

To keep costs down she started looking for four-bedroom properties to share. Then Ms Baker called her to say there was a flat available at Beaufort Court, owned by the Peabody Estates housing association and part of the Keep London Working scheme, a partnership of employers, housing companies, local authorities and lobby groups.

"You can be on the lists for a long time, but I was really lucky," says Ms Otter. "There happened to be one flat left. It is such a great deal."

For property management firm Camelot, the struggle to find affordable homes created a business opportunity. The company rents out empty office blocks and other disused buildings which are waiting to be sold or redeveloped. It offers cheap accommodation and in return the tenants, which it refers to as "guardians", occupy the buildings and help to protect them against squatters and vandals. The company charges around pound;150 a month for the London properties it manages.

Account manager John Mills says: "Teachers have undergone security checks.

The owners like to have teachers and police officers in the buildings."

And what is the attraction for teachers? "I think it is something to do with the appalling pay that they get at the beginning of their careers when they are starting out with three or four years of debt behind them and trying to find a place to live in London," says Mr Mills.

A FOOT ON THE LADDER

The new key worker living scheme - a revamp of the starter home initiative or key workers initiative - aims to simplify a system where the array of options can seem bewildering.

It aims to be a one-stop shop. Some details of the scheme are yet to be announced. London will be divided into five zones.

* For information, teachers should contact:

London: 0845 300 2820

South East: 0845 600 6699

Hertfordshire: 01582 869 440

Essex: 07002 662846

Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire: 0845 456 6757

Norfolk and Suffolk: 0845 850 2050.

* For the most up-to-date information, log on to the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister's website: www.odpm.gov.uk.

Teacher Support Network helpline, tel: 0800 562 561;

www.teachersupport.info is a good starting point for up-to-date information on what's on offer in your area. A helpful factsheet on housing is also available.

* Housing benefit: You may be eligible if you have high housingcosts and a one income family. Telephone the Teacher Support Network to check your entitlement: 0800 562 561.

For details of the Camelot Property Management scheme, log on to www.camelotproperty.com.

* At a glance: the key worker living scheme. Equity loans of up to pound;50,000 to help key workers buy a home on the open market or a new property built by a registered social landlord.

* Higher-value equity loans of up to pound;100,000 for a small group of schoolteachers with the potential to become leaders of London's education system in the future.

* Shared-ownership of newly built properties. (You buy at least 25 per cent of the home and pay a reduced rent on the remaining share).

* Intermediate renting - where the rent is set at a level between that charged by social and private landlords.

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