Based in the heart of one of the world’s greatest cities, we are in the unique position of owning and managing homes at social and discounted rents for members of the local community. Since the 1970s we have sought – and fought – to protect and preserve residential accommodation in the West End. Now, more than ever, our mission is to acquire and develop more homes to ensure that we have a balanced community of homes and local businesses in the centre of a capital city with extreme land value pressures.
We are an organisation that joins forces with other causes (such as the Soho Society and other local groups) that share in the aim of fighting to preserve social and discounted rent homes and develop new ones as well as challenging planning applications for other developments which may pose a threat to local communities.
The shareholders and the board have been clear that while it remains financially viable to retain the social rented units that should be a priority for Soho Housing. In this way Soho Housing have not adopted affordable rents for properties in existing ownership. However for new S106 opportunities in management or ownership agreement is being entered into to enable additional delivery of sub-market rent housing in our heartland that local people can realistically afford. It is understood that not adopting affordable rents reduces the return on a large part of the housing stock and the decision has been made in that knowledge. This means that we have not applied for grant funding from the GLA for our recent developments and so do not intend to apply for grant funding for future developments, but will continue to review this position as government and GLA policies change in the future.
Despite this and our location in the heart of one of the most expensive cities in the world for property we have continued to pursue an active development programme. During the year development work has completed at 54 Greek Street and West Street providing 7 new homes and 2 commercial units. We have also completed a s106 scheme of 5 units in Maiden Lane.
Our new properties are all mixed use schemes with commercial, market rent and discounted rent elements. The commercial element typically provides a significantly better return than the residential units and so we work to maximize our commercial rents, whilst ensuring that the commercial use is sympathetic to both the residents in the scheme and the wider community as a whole. When looking at potential acquisitions Soho Housing will always maximize the number of discounted rent units whilst ensuring that the scheme as a whole remains financially viable. An exercise has been undertaken to let us understand when it might be appropriate to convert market rented units into discounted rent units if our financial performance is such that this is viable and vice versa.
In 2017-18 our focus will be on completing our existing development programme at 59 Greek Street and s106 schemes at Endell & Denmark Street and Plympton Place. We will also be looking for new development opportunities as well as reviewing existing sites for additional development potential. This programme will use our current cash holdings and leave us in a position where the cash position is sufficient for our day to day operations with a reasonable margin for unforeseen events. We will also be working on an investment strategy to provide guidance on future development.