Yes to 50,000 new homes

For a worker in the care sector, median rents in London are close to or above 100 per cent of typical gross earnings


The campaign calling for 50,000 homes a year is welcome, especially in bringing together businesses big and small with the housing sector. But it needs to also call for 26,000 affordable homes. Housing policy is too often defined by the wrong numbers, used as a cover for all kinds of social and environmental harm.

In fifteen years at City Hall the wrong number has almost always been the total number of homes we need.

When I was first elected in 2000, I mostly received calls for help to stop development on allotments, natural habitats and playing fields. Last month I set out some ideas on Left Foot Forward for building many more homes without these sorts of problems.

In recent years the harm has been to social housing and communities hit by demolition. Boris Johnson has used every lever and knob in City Hall to help big developers wriggle out of their obligations to pay for social housing and to demolish council estates in order, he says, to get more homes built.

Better we get 10 per cent of 1,000 homes for social rent than 50 per cent of none – that is his central argument, but it has led to a falling supply of social housing.

So it’s encouraging to see big business groups sign up to the statement that ‘London needs more homes across all levels of income but particularly more homes that most Londoners can afford.’

On the campaign’s ‘facts and figures’ page they point out for those working in the sales, customer service and care sectors, median rents in Inner London and Outer London are close to or above 100 per cent of typical gross earnings.

Building more homes at or near to market prices won’t help those employees, nor the businesses that employ them. Rents and house prices are so obscenely high in London that only a market crash could make new market homes affordable to most Londoners.

The greatest need in London is undoubtedly for genuinely affordable housing, giving the low rents and security that the people working in sales, customer service and care need. The mayor’s latest assessment suggested 25,624 affordable homes were needed each year, 52 per cent of the total.

But this is also the greatest failure – we have built far too little. The London Tenants Federation keep a watchful eye on the mayor’s annual planning reports. In their latest update, they point out that in the latest year we actually exceeded the target for market housing – the sort you (or mostly investors) buy. But only half the required affordable housing was built, and far too little of that was social housing.

The 50,000 homes campaign says its starting point is that these issues can only be satisfactorily addressed if supply is dramatically increased.

But if that supply argument is used as Boris has used it, to slash investment in social housing and trample over communities, it will be no solution at all. It will simply be perpetuating the problem that homes are built for the benefit of rich investors rather than ordinary Londoners.

Darren Johnson is a London Assembly Member for the Green Party. Follow him on Twitter

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