Countdown for Housing

In London, no one can be unaware that we are in the midst of a housing crisis. So the Co-operative Housing (Tenure) Bill is timely and welcome.

With supply at an all time low, spiralling private sector rents and home ownership beyond the reach of so many in the capital, new and innovative forms of investment and tenure are needed.

If we can shed the constraints of the feudal framework governing occupancy rights, we can realise the potential of Co-op housing as a significant part of the housing mix.

They do it in Europe, why can’t we?

The United Nations’ International Year of Co-operatives has just begun. How fitting that this should coincide with the election campaign for Mayor of London – where progressive Labour and Co-op values will be pitted against failed Tory dogma for control of our capital.

But Co-operative values alone will not win back City Hall from the Tories. This election will be won or lost on turnout and your candidate, Ken Livingstone, needs you.

This is a pivotal election. It stakes out the ground for reclaiming Downing Street. And Ken Livingstone is setting out a progressive housing agenda – strong policies like the London Living Rent to ensure no one pays more than 30 per cent of their income on housing, and a London-wide lettings agency.

Ken has a growing agenda to campaign for, and there is plenty to campaign against.

Boris Johnson, the Tory mayor, and his government are on a mission to completely change the political landscape for housing in London. Their policies will see social segregation on an unprecedented scale – devastating the poor and hammering those on low-to-middle incomes. Thousands living in the social or private rented sector will be driven to outer-London or out of the capital altogether.

It didn’t have to be like this – and it shouldn’t.

The Tory Mayor inherited a record housing budget of £5 billion. This was money negotiated by Ken Livingstone and given by a Labour Government. London got more in the three years between 2008 and 2011 than the whole country has been given for the four years to 2015.

Boris Johnson has squandered this budget.

He promised to build 50,000 affordable homes by 2011 but has fallen way short and is now taking almost half the money set aside for the next mayoral term to reach 50,000 before the election in May.

Most of the homes delivered are ones Ken Livingstone started. But since Boris Johnson took over housing starts have fallen to their lowest level since the London mayoralty was created.

This is not surprising because Boris has torn up Ken’s powerful planning framework.

He has scrapped the policy that 50% of all new homes should be affordable and he has scrapped any policy to ensure mixed communities by putting social housing in more affluent areas.

He has now scrapped targets for the number of affordable homes each borough should deliver – breaking one of his election promises. There is now no mechanism for the mayor to push Tory boroughs to build homes affordable to Londoners.

But this affordable housing failure is just part of a wider picture of devastating housing policies.

With the new so-called ‘affordable rent’ model, short-term tenancies and welfare reform, many Londoners will either be forced into a life of benefit dependency or simply priced out of the lowest income housing this city provides.

For many of these people, the private rented sector in London will not be an option because supply side failure has caused inflation busting rent increases. All predictions suggest this year’s 12% rise will just be the start as rents accelerate ahead of inflation further in coming years.

This puts intolerable pressure on the majority of the 850,000 households in London’s private rented sector who have to spend between 50% and 75% of their take home pay on rent and are frequently forced to move. The impact on families and children’s health and education is particularly worrying.

The Mayor does not have a single policy to deal with this rent crisis in his housing strategy and has wilfully washed his hands of the matter on the basis that he can’t interfere in the market.

He’s happy to lobby Brussels on behalf of the hedge funds, but won’t lobby Whitehall on behalf of hard pressed tenants. He says a living rent would be “ideological”.

There is a lot at stake and a lot to campaign for.

It is at this time, more than ever, we need Co-operative values governing London for the benefit of the hard pressed majority.

In the months running up to the election the London Labour Housing Group will be working closely with London Region to produce policy and campaign materials.

To win May’s election we need to mobilise the strength of the Co-operative Party, getting more shoe leather on doorsteps and more leaflets through letterboxes than ever before.

It’s going to be a tough fight. But it’s a fight we must win.

Nicky Gavron AM
Labour London Assembly Planning and Housing Spokesperson
Vice-Chair London Labour Housing Group

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About nickygavron

Former Deputy Mayor for London, London Assembly Member, Chair of Planning Committee, and Labour Spokesperson for Planning
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