The Mayor’s housing strategy – a mountain to climb

The Mayor is struggling on housing, and his new strategy won’t give us the affordable homes we need.

What the Mayor achieves on housing – the greatest challenge our city faces – is what he will be judged on at the end of four years, and he has to get this right. Londoners cannot be let down by two successive Mayors on this issue.

Sadiq Khan’s draft Housing Strategy was published today and is out for consultation until 7 December.

There are some welcome new initiatives in this document. It’s very good news that the GLA will be actively buying land for publicly-led housing, for example. I was also pleased to see the Mayor outline some support for community-led homes. These are a real opportunity for Londoners to get together to build their own homes while protecting their community from commercial developers. I hope that some of the land the Mayor buys can go to community-led schemes like the StART project in Haringey.

However, I’m very worried that, outside the Mayor’s funding streams, big developers will still be able to use loopholes to get out of providing the genuinely affordable homes we need, and that renters won’t have his support in controlling rent rises.

The key section of the draft Housing Strategy on the definition of affordable homes lists social rents and the Mayor’s new London Living Rent (set at a third of local incomes) but also includes “supporting a range of other types of intermediate rented homes” and also says this will include “other discounted/intermediate market rent (DMR/IMR) homes at a range of discounts.”

Affordable rent in the housing strategy glossary
Affordable rent in the housing strategy glossary

With this additional definition to pick and choose from, developers will leap through this loophole and this could mean Londoners paying up to 80 per cent of local rates, which is how the Government defines ‘affordable’. Indeed, the glossary of the strategy spells this out saying ‘Affordable rent’ can be “a rent of no more than 80 per cent of the local market rent.”

Leaving in this old 80 per cent definition means getting truly affordable homes will be very difficult from private developers who will always argue right down to the limits of policies on what they have to provide.

London needs 16,000 new social rent homes every year – but since Sadiq Khan took office not a single council home has even been started under Mayoral schemes, as I recently revealed.

Sadiq needs to roll up his sleeves and do more to speed things up, and that includes being bold in redefining affordable to fit what our city needs.

In the draft strategy, the Mayor has also stepped back from asking for the power to put in wider controls on rent rises. He should be asking for at least for the power to put modest controls on rises in rents. This is done in many countries on a city level and is a very reasonable way to manage increasing costs – the Assembly backed this in a majority report in 2016.

London’s private renters are crying out for this too, as my Big Renters Survey showed last year.

Day-to-day affordability is all that matters to most Londoners, especially private renters like me. With so little achieved so far and the Mayor’s commitments to truly affordable rents watered down, he has a mountain to climb if he’s going to meet what his manifesto promised by the end of his first term.

Watch me challenge the Mayor on his delivery of council homes so far at MQT: