£535 million for homes is no good in London’s back pocket

London is sitting on more than half a billion pounds intended for affordable homes but going unspent, reports Inside Housing after I challenged the Mayor at a City Hall budget meeting where the figure emerged.

I asked the Mayor whether he would put this £535 million, left unallocated from his £4.8 billion affordable housing budget, to secure emergency new homes now, when Londoners are facing a winter of increased homelessness, renters are in arrears, and council housing already cannot meet demand.

At the time, the Mayor said he did not accept the premise that there was any spare money available, despite the figure being in a letter from the GLA housing team. The GLA has now confirmed to journalists that £535 million of Government grant funding does indeed remain unallocated.

We saw the devastation wreaked by the first lockdown and the emergency measures that we took then – the GLA housed more than 1,700 people in hotels – but these Londoners need long-term, secure and safe homes.

There’s the strongest possible case for any unallocated funding to be put towards securing emergency new homes, which could help the serious housing and health issues arising from the current crisis.

I have proposed the Mayor should buy market and shared ownership homes that are already built or near completion in struggling developments and use them as social housing for people in need now. Housing associations and councils are building many thousands of market and shared ownership homes right now that could be eligible for this kind of scheme.

There is a precedent with what’s been done on the Aylesbury Estate, where Southwark Council has borrowed £138 million towards buying back 280 new market homes from the developers to use as council homes. (See item 19 on the Southwark Cabinet agenda here)

What I would like to see is an urgent action plan to use the unallocated funds as soon as possible. They are no use in the Mayor’s back pocket.

With this proposal we could reduce the risk to current schemes due to housing market worries and house people in need of council homes now. To put it into context, London got £67 million from the government for the Move On fund. If we’ve got more than half a billion pounds that we could use, why would we not do this?

I wrote to the Mayor and the Deputy Mayor for Housing and Residential Development in April, to ask them to look into options for unoccupied homes in London. I suggested investigating ways in which unoccupied or unsold homes could be used, either as temporary accommodation for those in housing need, or as more permanent affordable rented homes. This newly discovered funding pot would be a way to make these ideas possible at scale.

Watch my questions here: