Friday, 26 May 2017

London mayor: 2

From: Inside edge

The London mayoral race is throwing up some interesting new ideas on how to tackle the housing crisis in the capital – but will they make any difference?

Thanks to the voting system (the supplementary vote, which gives people two votes in order of preference), the race is not just about Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone, even if one of them will eventually become the mayor (see part one of my blog here). And, thanks to the mayor’s new powers over investment and land, housing policy features heavily in the manifestos of many of the other candidates too.

For the Lib Dems Brian Paddick is promising not just 360,000 homes of all types over the next decade but also to work to ensure that half of new homes affordable. A bit like Livingstone, he also wants to establish a new ‘living rent’ standard, with ‘the goal that Londoners should pay no more than one-third of their take-home pay on rent costs’. He would set a benchmark guideline that half of homes should be affordable, with the detail left to boroughs. He would create a London Housing Company as a vehicle to assemble public land and match it with private investment and give smaller housing associations the chance to raise loan capital through a London Housing Bond supported by City Hall.

In the private rented sector, he would promote ‘the effective registration of private landlords’ by using existing powers for the selective licensing of all private rented housing in specific areas, as pioneered by Newham. Finally, in an interesting indication of Lib Dem thinking on a national coalition policy, ‘until national laws are changed’ he would encourage landlords to offer longer minimum tenancies, especially those landlords being used to discharge councils’ homeless rehousing duties’.

For the Greens, Jenny Jones signals the importance of housing in the subtitle of her manifesto (‘Our vision for a more equal, healthy and affordable London’). She pledges to build at least 15,000 ‘genuinely affordable’ homes per year, of which 40 per cent would be family-sized. She would calculate an annual London Affordable Rent for the average household while using public land to keep rents at or below that cap. A London Mutual Housing Company would help councils, housing associations and co-operatives to assemble sites for development and there would be a ‘much more concerted’ programme of public compulsory purchase. She would set up a clearing house to offer publicly-owned derelict land to community land trusts. And there are specific green pledges on energy efficiency, fuel poverty and empty homes.

Action in the private rented sector would include lobbying for ‘smart reforms’ to bring down rents and the introduction of a default five-year tenancy. She would create a new ethical lettings agency and work with boroughs on ‘blanket licensing for landlords’. In the longer term she promised to campaign for more radical reforms including land value taxation and a ban on foreign investors.

The independent Siobhan Benita makes housing a to priority with a pledge to create Homes for London as a new department at City Hall (a key part of Shelter’s campaign of the same name). Even more intriguingly she proposes the creation of a new ‘fixed-price housing market’ where Londoners would be able to buy or rent at half of commercial rents. The GLA would gift land for development but on a leasehold basis so that it retains ultimate ownership. Any homes built on it would have to be sold into a regulated, secondary market under the control of Homes for London.

Buyers would have to be London residents with the winners drawn by ballot. Anyone wishing to sell would have to offer it back into the fixed-price market at the original price plus an annual uplift agreed by Homes for London. Anyone wishing to rent would have to charge a regulated rent expressed as a fixed proportion of the fixed price value. Social landlords would also be able to buy the properties on the same basis but the right to buy would be a right in the regulated rather than commercial market. Her target would be 80,000 fixed-price homes by the end her mayoralty. 

Put it all together and there is no shortage of ideas about what the new mayor should do on housing. There is also a growing consensus about the need to push to the limit of the mayor’s powers and beyond and to do something radical about affordability and housing supply. If you happen to be a London voter (I’m not) today is the last day to register to vote.

The big question is whether all of that new thinking will make much difference to the result. For one thing, all the attention from the candidates does not seem to be generating much interest in the mainstream media. According to the FT’s Westminster blog, Ken Livingstone complained at a lunch yesterday that only one journalist attended the launch of his housing manifesto.

For another, the one mainstream candidate who seems to be offering nothing more than the current status quo on housing (excluding UKIP and the BNP who don’t have much to offer either) is the one currently leading in the polls: Boris Johnson.

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