The London my young children are growing up in today is very different to the one I grew up in in the 1970s, and the one that greeted my parents when they arrived here from foreign shores in the post-war years. It is not the city of opportunity and aspiration it was when my father came here in 1956. Then, he was able to buy a house for £6,000 and find work and my mother was given the opportunity to learn new skills which enabled her, too, to gain employment. Those kind of opportunities are simply no longer there for many people growing up in the capital. Today, 640,000 Londoners are in low paid jobs, one in four young people are unemployed and the average age of a first time house buyer is set to rise to an astonishing 52 years old.
I don’t need to tell readers of Red Brick that, right now, the biggest obstacle to that opportunity is the housing crisis gripping the capital.
For the last few years I have been inundated with cases in my surgery that relate to housing. It’s the same for my colleagues across the capital. My sense is that for too long politicians have been ducking the tough issues and not engaging with stakeholders from across all sides of the housing industry.
With all this in mind, I recently released a 41-page report with proposals on how to tackle the crisis. It proposed 34 policy solutions that I believe will together get London building, increase the affordability of housing, and tackle soaring rents.
One of the most positive things to come out of the report is that it has stimulated and broadened the debate on housing. Of course, urgent discussion and debate has been taking place on blogs like this and within policy arenas for years, but we need to take strong, solution orientated arguments to the people of London and be honest with them about the difficult decisions we need to make in order to solve the crisis. My report is an attempt to do just that.
Firstly we need to increase the amount of land available for new homes. Initially that requires us to make more land available. Building on brownfield sites should be our first move and is estimated to provide us with over 360,000 new homes. But as high as that figure is, it is nowhere near enough. London needs nearly a million homes by 2021 and more beyond that. We also need to engage, therefore, with the difficult issues that politicians have ducked for decades, and that means challenging the misconceptions around greenbelt.
Ask most people what greenbelt means and they will talk of playing fields and pristine woodland. Much of the greenbelt is exactly that and, of course, that must carefully be protected. But there are some areas of the greenbelt that are not worthy of the name – parts that were designated 70 years ago when they were verdant are now wastelands and car parks.
The city has changed since then, and so have its needs. It is time to rethink a 70-year-old planning policy in order to prevent the current situation in which local councils have to build on playing fields while car parks remain protected.
We also need to correct the mistakes Boris Johnson has made on ‘affordable housing’. He moved the goalposts on affordable housing so that ‘affordable’ rents can now be charged at up to 80% of market value. As private rents soar, that mean these ‘affordable’ rents are now being set at thousands of pounds per month. The current debate around affordable housing is a farce – politicians have used the phrase ‘affordable’ but have not been honest enough to admit that it means nothing to most Londoners.
We need to redefine what we mean by affordability and make sure affordable means something again. I have proposed linking affordability to average earnings in each borough and capping affordable rents at 60% of market value. This would mean we are not just building more homes but also making them genuinely affordable for Londoners.
The best way to get councils building again is to give them the money to do it. That’s why I have proposed looking at increasing the number of council tax bands. Currently, a family in Bexley or Barnet pay the same as Roman Abramovich in his Belgravia mansion. The current council tax bands are based on 1991 valuations and so, again, they are a part of the system that simply isn’t moving with the times.
All of these ideas will help make buying a home more affordable. But they will take time: building hundreds of thousands of homes cannot happen overnight. In the short term, keeping London affordable means acting quickly to tackle soaring rents. Ed Miliband is completely right to endorse rent stabilisation through control mechanisms, as I outlined back in February of this year [http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2014/02/we-need-rent-controls-solve-londons-housing-crisis]. My report further outlines what those controls should be, and how they will protect tenants.
To make London a city where we can all can get on and thrive, we need to tackle the capital’s housing crisis, enabling everyone in the capital to make a home here and still have the means to benefit from everything this fantastic city has to offer.
David Lammy’s report ‘Crisis, What Crisis? Tackling the London housing emergency’ is available at www.londonhousingreport.com
David Lammy MP is the second declared candidate for the Labour nomination to be London Mayor, following Christian Wolmar.
Red Brick will be happy to carry pieces from any of the candidates in the run up to the selection, which will take place after the General Election.
London Labour Housing Group is also planning to hold ‘Housing Hustings’ during the selection.
David Lammy MP website
Christian Wolmar website