We can’t fix the housing crisis without more funding and powers

The Housing Minister recently said that, as Mayor, I should focus on building more expensive private apartments rather than social and affordable homes. That was the attitude at City Hall under the previous mayor and could not be more wrong.

The previous mayor’s blind focus on the number of private market homes being built – with no regard for how many were genuinely affordable – means we inherited a legacy of just 13% of new homes given planning permission being affordable. And even that paltry percentage relied on the previous mayor’s dodgy definition of ‘affordable rents’ at up to 80% of the market rate.

But we’ve changed that. We’ve adopted a tough new definition of ‘affordable’ and last year secured 34% affordable housing in schemes referred to me – making clear progress towards my target for 50% of new homes to be affordable. We also inherited an affordable homes programme that didn’t include a single home for social rent by its final year. We changed that too. 

In the first year of my programme, we started building nearly 3,000 social rented homes – more than City Hall has ever done before, and more than the rest of the country put together. And we’re beginning to see the success of our Building Council Homes for Londoners programme, the first-ever City Hall programme dedicated to council homebuilding, with councils agreeing to increase council homebuilding five-fold over the next few years.

Building more council, social rented and other genuinely affordable homes is central to our work at City Hall. But councils, housing associations and private homebuilders need to work hard to earn Londoners trust for their building plans too. That’s why I’m pleased that so many councils and housing associations are embracing my policy to make resident ballots mandatory for large estate regeneration schemes who want my funding.

We must also do all we can to help Londoners in the private rented sector – and despite having no powers in this area, my team has worked with councils across London to expose bad landlords and agents. All councils agreed voluntarily to be part of my Rogue Landlord and Agent Checker – the first public database in the country to ‘name and shame’ those who have been prosecuted or fined. The Prime Minister has now pledged to introduce a version nationwide.

But we desperately need the national government to overhaul the law for private renters. They’ve committed to ending letting fees and scrapping Section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions after I lobbied ministers alongside campaign groups in London. But they need to go much further.

That is why my Deputy Mayor of Housing James Murray is working with Karen Buck MP on plans for what powers City Hall needs to introduce rent controls. We’ll be urging ministers to follow our proposals. We will also keep urging ministers to reverse their policies around housing, welfare, and support for the vulnerable, which are shamefully forcing people out of their homes and in many cases onto the streets.

The rise in homelessness is a national disgrace. This year, City Hall is spending double on its rough sleeping services compared to when we came to office. We’re doubling our outreach team, and funding new services to help people avoid the streets in the first place. But the government must tackle the root causes to end homelessness for good. 

From building council homes to campaigning for private renters’ rights and helping homeless Londoners off the streets, we’re showing the difference we can make through City Hall. But we can’t fix the housing crisis unless the government gives London the funding and powers we need – and so we must be unrelenting in pushing them to do so.

This piece was commissioned by Tom Copley, who is guest editing LabourList today.

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