Posted by: Jules Birch13/12/2011
Fascinating and contrasting moves on housing this week from two of the most important politicians in London.
Then Ken Livingstone reveals another two planks in his platform as Labour candidate for Mayor of London: a campaign for a London living rent; and a London-wide lettings agency. He explains more in a piece for Inside Housing here.
Both are interesting in their own right. Greenhalgh is not just an influential council leader but one of the theorists behind much Conservative market-based housing policy thanks to his co-authorship of the Localis pamphlet Principles for Social Housing Reform in 2009. He became the pantomine villain of that year’s Labour party conference.
And Livingstone clearly believes housing can be a powerful weapon in his campaign to regain the mayoralty from Boris Johnson and his questionable claims about affordable housing.Put them together though and you have starkly contrasting visions of the future of housing both in the capital and in the nation as a whole.
The White City Opportunity Area is a huge regeneration project that includes industrial land north of the Westfield shopping centre, the old BBC television centre and a potential new university campus as well as council estates. It’s the second most deprived neighbourhood in the borough and a far cry from the well-heeled Town ward that Greenhalgh represents.
More than half of the housing is social rented compared to just under a third in the borough as a whole.The housing strategy promises ‘no net loss of social rented housing in the area’ though the intention seems to be to break up the estates into more mixed residential areas. Hammersmith & Fulham’s statement on Greenhalgh’s departure refers to £70m - or £17,000 per household - being spent in the area per year.
Greenhalgh says: ‘I do not think the people of White City are getting value for money out of that £70 million, nor do I think are wider taxpayers. I want to focus that money on getting much better outcomes for people living there and ensuring that the neighbourhood is fully involved in how that money is spent.’
What better testing ground could he find for the belief stated in the Localis pamphlet that ‘council estates have become the very things that they were designed to replace – social ghettos – trapping their residents in a vicious circle of dependency’?
Today’s statement by Ken Livingstone is an attempt to open up a new front in the battle with Johnson, this time focussing on the squeezed middle of hundreds of thousands of Londoners who do not qualify for social housing and cannot afford to buy. So he will establish a campaign for a London Living Rent - a benchmark that people should pay no more than a third of their income on rent.
In more than half of London boroughs Londoners are paying on average over 50 per cent of their incomes. We should be doing everything we can to get that number down. Many people in reasonably well-paid jobs are seeing their incomes absorbed into their housing costs.
Learning from the success of the London Living Wage in arguing, cajoling, intervening and collaborating, the Living Rent Campaign will be a new way of making City Hall work for ordinary Londoners.
That would be backed up with a new London-wide lettings agency that ‘will put good tenants in touch with good landlords across the spectrum of private renting so that both can benefit from security of tenure and reduce the costs of letting’.
It would work with councils, landlords and tenants to develop a strategy to tackle rogue landlords, drive up standards and cut unscrupulous letting agents out of the market.It’s good to see a major politician from any party look to tackle what’s happening in the private rented sector but it’s not at all clear how the Living Rent plan would work. Johnson’s camp told the BBC that the mayor has no powers to introduce it and that in any case it would lead to fewer homes being built and disinvestment by landlords but he’s clearly felt moved to respond with his own plan to accredit 100,000 London landlords by 2016.
However, Livingstone is promising to ‘campaign for’ a Living Rent - not actually introduce one. Just as Greenhalgh will be putting his theory that council housing breeds deprivation to the test with market-based solutions, so Livingstone’s pledge is a first, tentative challenge to the view that the market can be left to its own devices.
From Inside edge
Housing commentator Jules Birch puts the latest news in context