Councillors have agreed to try to keep rents as low as possible for people moving into new council houses and flats in Brighton and Hove.
Some councillors were worried about fairness and the possibility that existing tenants would subsidise new tenants as a result of the policy.
They were also concerned that Brighton and Hove City Council was as prudent as possible with the Housing Revenue Account which is funded by tenants’ rents.
At Hove Town Hall yesterday (Wednesday 16 January) the council’s Housing Committee approved a revised “rent policy”.
The committee agreed to maximise the number of council homes replaced at “social rents” or “living wage rents”.
These could be newly built homes or those bought by the council, including former council houses or flats sold under the “right to buy”.
The cheapest option – social rents – can be as little as about £75 a week for a one-bed property and about £105 a week for a four-bedroom house.
But the more common “affordable rents” can range from about £160 a week for a one-bedroom house to about £350 for a four-bedroom house.
Affordable rents are expected to be set at up to 80 per cent of the market rate or the “local housing allowance” benefit limit.
A report to the Housing Committee said that more than a third of existing tenants have all their rent covered by housing-related benefits.
But lower rent levels would mean less reliance on benefits funded by central government, the report said.
Labour councillor Peter Atkinson said that rent policy was a sensitive issue. He said that the council should keep rents as low as possible while being as prudent as possible with tenants’ money.
He added: “Local housing allowance and higher living wage rents may be fairer in new builds because energy costs are reduced in those.
“Good insulation, solar panels and trying to reach the ‘passive house standard’ for energy efficiency … It’s all good stuff.”
Green councillor David Gibson, a longstanding campaigner for cheap rents, called for greater use of lower living wage rent levels.
He said: “It’s very close to my heart is affordability for low-income households.
“I am very mindful that we have been losing council properties at genuinely affordable rents and replacing them with properties at almost double the rent.”
He accepted that it was “not realistic” to have 100 per cent lower social rents as the costs would be “totally unbearable” but said that the council could do more by buying back homes.
Conservative councillor Mary Mears was concerned about the focus on a form of cheap rent known as the lower living wage rent as she felt that it was something that the council could not afford with its own building projects.
She said: “We need to be very careful and very mindful. The HRA (housing revenue account) subsidises rents but this is tenants subsiding other tenants.
“We need to be very mindful how we spend their money.”
An equalities impact assessment will be carried out before the new rent policy is introduced and the policy will be kept under review.