New plans are designed to ensure noone spends more than a third of their income on rent
We had a housing crisis when Boris Johnson was first elected as mayor of London – and over his two terms it has got so much worse. Johnson has shrugged his shoulders as social rents have been abandoned, private rents have hiked, and house prices have soared. We all know how desperately our city needs a mayor who will take on this challenge and make housing more affordable.
From building homes for social rent and ‘intermediate’ affordable housing, to helping first-time buyers over international investors, we need to help Londoners affected in different ways by the capital’s complex housing crisis. And of course, among the Londoners who need help are a growing number of private renters who have been let down by successive governments.
It’s therefore very welcome to see Sadiq Khan setting out his plans to support them. In doing so, he strikes a balance between what he’d do directly as mayor, what he’d work with councils to do, and what he’d use his position to campaign for.
In terms of what he’d do from City Hall, Sadiq sets out plans for a ‘London Living Rent’ that could be offered in new ‘intermediate’ affordable homes. It’s based on the principle that rents shouldn’t be more than around a third of what people earn – therefore offering an affordable alternative for private renters, many of whom are currently stuck paying more than half their income on rent.
This idea has several important aspects: it’s based on earnings, rather than market rates; it means people might be able to save for a deposit, thus linking the London Living Rent to first-time buying if people are looking to buy; and it’s an alternative to ‘shared ownership’ – currently the most popular form of ‘intermediate’ affordable housing – which, particularly in inner London boroughs is increasingly impossible to make genuinely affordable.
In his plans Sadiq also underlines the importance of working with councils to improve the private rented sector – whether through building up the not-for-profit lettings agencies that a number of boroughs have been leading on, or through supporting their work to license landlords.
Now, I realise I could be accused of having a vested interest in promoting the role of councils. But I think it’s right for any mayor to realise that much of what they want to do will involve working with councils on the ground, and also to recognise there are a lot of good ideas and practices amongst councillors who have experience getting stuff done.
Though the focus is on what he could do as mayor, Sadiq’s plans also refer to what he’ll use the position to campaign for. To this end, he has committed to fighting for stronger rights for tenants to get repairs done, and for the mayor to have powers to limit rent rises.
Crucially, he argues that the limit on rises should mean the mayor could freeze rents, and that there must be limits between tenancies too. With steps like these (which are also being fought for in New York, as a recent article I wrote for City Metric set out ) rents could start to come down in real terms and would not be hiked between tenancies.
Although this would be a tough sell with the current government, it is absolutely right for London’s mayor to make the case for bringing rents down, to show how this could be done, and to fight for the powers to be able to do it from this government or indeed a future one.
With the grim prospect of a tough five years under the new Tory government, we need a mayor who will get things done and fight for what Londoners need. In his ideas to help private renters, Sadiq Khan sets out a plan for doing just that.
James Murray is the executive member for Housing & Development for Islington Council. Follow him on Twitter
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