London mayor: the housing policies of Dame Tessa Jowell

London Labour Housing Group has organised a Housing Hustings on July 2 to enable Labour Party members and registered supporters to quiz the candidates for the Labour nomination on housing. It will be chaired by Dave Hill of the Guardian. Register for the Housing Hustings via Eventbrite.

This is the second in a series of pieces (in alphabetical order) on each of the Labour mayoral candidates’ housing policies as they have been announced so far.

Tessa Jowell on Housing

Tessa Jowell put housing at the top of her list of priorities when she was interviewed by Andrew Marr last Sunday. Operating under her ‘One London’ banner, she says she will ‘tackle the housing crisis with Olympian effort’ and will demonstrate this priority by creating a new body called Homes for Londoners – a housing equivalent of Transport for London within the GLA – on day 1 of her mayoralty, building on a Ken Livingstone idea from the last mayoral election. She would chair HfL and appoint a Housing Commissioner to drive her policies forward.

Tessa points out that the last time London was building the homes it needed, in the 1970s, the GLC and the boroughs were contributing 23,000 a year. The council she was a senior member of even back then, Camden, provided many of them. She points to increasingly extreme housing needs in London – from overcrowding to damp to the lack of affordability – but is also clear that housing is essential to London’s economy, commenting that:

‘Unchecked, the homes crisis risks triggering an economic crisis, with talented staff being priced out of the capital. With 100,000 new Londoners joining our city every year this a dynamic crisis that intensifies with every day we let slip by. We cannot take our economic success for granted – without action on homes, London’s economy is at serious risk. A city which cannot retain its talented workers cannot retain its status as a great city.’

In getting homes built, she would start with the mayor’s own land, committing to building 2,000 affordable homes a year on that land – although it is not yet clear if she intends the mayor to be the direct builder, the commissioner, or the funder of these schemes. She would plan to work in partnership with Government, councils and the private sector to develop a long term plan for homes in the capital. And she makes a commitment to build homes across the tenures: ‘Using that partnership we need to create a step change in the numbers of all types of homes – social rent, genuinely affordable rent, rent-to-buy and home ownership’ with an emphasis on building communities and not just housing.

She identifies a number of urgent tasks for HfL: to mobilise all the resources of London to get building; to develop the skilled workforce needed to overcome shortages; to start a new generation of purpose built rented homes at reasonable rents; to chamion the rights of boroughs to intervene in the private rented sector; to sponsor a new ‘rent to buy’ programme; to use use planning powers to require affordable home ownership; and to take a tougher stance on empty homes.

‘The time for excuses’, she says, ’has long since gone. I will not allow Londoners to be denied access to homes because they happen to live in a borough not interested in growth, or live next to public land whose owner is too nervous to propose major new developments.’

Tessa has been extremely critical of the Government’s plans to extend the right to buy to housing association tenants. It is a policy that is ‘blind to what is happening in London’, forcing associations to sell homes at huge discounts and funding it by forcing councils to sell off the most valuable homes on the open market. Tessa believes that this runs the risk  that ‘the majority of the money raised from selling off council homes will be here in London’ but the benefit could end up going elsewhere – to areas where tenants are more able to buy. ‘Under the new plans’, she said, ‘instead of getting to grips with council waiting lists we would have to expend almost all of our energy, resources and land just to replace the homes that are being sold off.’

Like all the other candidates, she will have to undertake a detailed assessment of the powers already available to the mayor and the extra powers that she will have to campaign for – with a Government in power that is hostile to social housing, to borrowing, and to intervention. Over the next few weeks, it will be reasonable to anticiapte more detail on how some of Tessa’s Olympian ideals will be turned into practical policies. More will need on how the mayor’s existing planning powers can be used, how resources will be generated, how she would redress the balance between social rented and affordable rented, and how the mayor can mobilise a major effort to improve conditions in the private rented sector.


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