London mayor: the housing policies of Sadiq Khan MP

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

Sadiq Khan on housing

Sadiq Khan, currently MP for Tooting, did not declare his candidacy for mayor of London until the General Election was over and done. He has therefore had to play catch-up with some other candidates who declared much earlier. His recent speeches and articles have devoted much of their content to housing, and he is backed by the only Labour politician to have actually run housing in the capital, Ken Livingstone.

Khan’s recent form on housing policy goes back to 2013 when he edited a series of essays on London for the Fabian Society, including writing the housing chapter. Along with other candidates, he puts housing at the top of his list of priorities, saying that a solution to the housing crisis is ‘the single biggest thing that Londoners need from their next Mayor’.

His pitch starts with London’s communities and the loss of social benefits that are following the shortage of new and affordable homes. He says:

‘It (the shortage) also raises a fundamental issue of what kind of city we want London to be. Do we want it to be the preserve of the wealthy alone, or do we want it to be an inclusive city where everyone has the potential to thrive? One of the things I love most about London is its a place where people from all walks of life live side by side. We notice when our neighbours are struggling and our communities are changing and it affects us all – not just those at the very top and the very bottom.’

Khan is adamant that there is no silver bullet: ‘Fixing the crisis will require us to roll up our sleeves every day, and get on with the hands-on work of bringing forward land, getting developments approved and then getting on with building them.

To do that he will set up a new London Homes Team at City Hall – not an external organisation, but an in-house dedicated housing development team who will be charged with sorting out the financing of new homes, dealing with the current mayor’s scandalous underspend. He will launch a London Home Bond to bring in private investment and fight for greater financial devolution to London and more freedom for boroughs to invest in more affordable homes.

Khan thinks that the tenure of the housing being built is important. He would reinstate the 50% target for genuinely affordable homes as a share of all new build, to tackle the ‘massive windfalls’ being enjoyed by landowners currently and ensure that planning powers are used to ensure that local tenants and first-time buyers are offered first chance on new homes.

Noting that the Tory Manifesto did not even mention private tenants, Khan’s policies have been most innovative in relation the private rented sector, going beyond the policy proposed by Labour in the election. In particular, he wants the government to give the mayor the power to freeze rents in the city. He also plans to establish a London-wide not-for-profit letting agency that would promote longer term, stable tenancies for responsible tenants and good landlords. Bad landlords would be ‘named and shamed’ and tougher action taken against offenders. He says: ‘As the Tories shrug their shoulders, I’m determined to show that we can do more to help Londoners who are renting privately.

He would introduce a new London Living Rent tenure, going back to Livingstone’s idea that new affordable housing should be divided between social rented homes and ‘intermediate’ homes aimed at people who cannot afford to buy but are essential to London’s economy. By offering rents linked to a third of average renters’ incomes, these tenants would be helped to save for a deposit to become buyers in the future.
In relation to the new government, he is committed to campaigning against the reduction in the benefit cap and selling off housing association homes, putting him at a distance from most of the Labour Leadership candidates. ‘Together’, he says, ‘these policies will exacerbate the crisis and rip London’s communities apart.’

Finally, it is worth noting that Khan has been a strong advocate of building Garden Cities outside London. In his Fabian essay, he argued that we must ‘look outside London’ and recalled the Atlee government’s achievements:

The last Labour government to inherit a housing crisis near the scale we face today was Clement Attlee’s. Within a year of taking office, the Labour government opened the first of eight new garden towns in the south east. These new towns provided wonderful environments for London’s workforce to live in, with quick and easy commuter links into the city. They eased the pressure on London’s housing stock and, crucially, were built far quicker than could have been possible within the city.
Everyone recognises that new cities must play a major role in London’s future, yet nothing is happening. If we win the general election (sic), we must urgently get on with the job. We will give new town development corporations the financial backing and additional powers they need to get on and build the next generation of new towns and garden cities.

It will be interesting to see if, as mayor, Sadiq Khan will be able to work effectively with the Tory government to get a new generation of Garden Cities off the ground.

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