Comment: ‘Affordable housing’ will actually mean something if Sadiq Khan is mayor

Zac Goldsmith's solution to the housing crisis is to back the government's disastrous policies


Tower Hamlets has long played its part in delivering affordable housing for Londoners, consistently delivering high numbers of new and affordable homes. Under the last Labour Government’s historic levels of investment people had a better chance at a decent home – and they trusted what ‘affordable’ meant.

But since 2010, the Tories have redefined ‘affordable rent’ as homes that cost up to 80 per cent of the market rate. We have seen the number of new genuinely affordable homes decrease, and ‘affordable’ has been stretched beyond all common sense understanding of the word. The current government and their candidate for Mayor of London, Zac Goldsmith, have taken the term ‘affordable’ to breaking point – it now includes homes for sale at £450,000.

Like many others in the capital, Tower Hamlets residents need a Mayor who understands London’s housing market, understands London’s economy, and understands that 80 per cent of market rent and £450,000 homes are not affordable.  Sadiq Khan has put affordability at the heart of his manifesto and already made bold decisions about the housing policies he would pursue.  

In Tower Hamlets, we share Sadiq’s belief that building genuinely affordable homes is key to the tackling the housing crisis. Since John Biggs was elected as Mayor last summer, Tower Hamlets Council set up an Affordability Commission to look into what Tower Hamlets residents can really afford.

We found that a couple earning an average income, with two junior school age children, pay £146 a week for a housing association social rent on a two-bed flat. The government’s so-called ‘affordable rent’ home at 80 per cent of market rent for this family would be £354 a week – forcing the family to claim £189 a week in Housing Benefit and paying 45 per cent of their income in housing costs.

Meanwhile a household with one earner on minimum wage and three children needing a three bed home would pay £425 a week for an ‘affordable rent’ home, again forcing them to claim housing benefit and paying 54 per cent of their income in housing costs.

The truth is that in the private rented market, it is so easy to let homes as flat shares, with adult earners in every room, that any household with children will struggle to compete.  Added to that, incomes haven’t risen at the same rates as rents, causing an ever-widening gap between what families can afford to pay and what the market is demanding.

Our residents desperately need to see real investment in genuinely affordable housing, not a continuation of failed Tory policies. Zac Goldsmith’s answer to London’s affordability crisis is to back the plans from his bosses at Number 10 and 11 to implement ‘Starter Homes’ – homes for sale at up to £450,000.

We know they’re not affordable for most Londoners, and even some developers are expressing concerns about their impact.  The absence of any meaningful policy on what genuinely affordable renting really means for Londoners shows how out of touch Goldsmith is with their day-to-day lives.

Sadiq knows that London needs a housing policy for all, which recognises that London’s economy is at risk if we don’t solve the housing crisis.  Crucial to London’s success is its mixed communities where people can afford to live a reasonable distance from where they work and where their kids go to school.  But Zac Goldsmith and the Tory Government he will be working for would jeopardise this great aspect of London life.

Sadiq’s target for 50 per cent of all new homes in London to be genuinely affordable would create new communities in London. Tower Hamlets residents would benefit from Sadiq’s commitment to genuinely affordable homes and a ‘London Living Rent’ based on average incomes and not the local market.  The London Living Rent would help families to save for deposits, rather than get trapped in private renting, with rents increasing faster than wages.  

Sadiq has always said that this election is a referendum on housing and he has the ideas, the understanding, and commitment to deliver homes that Londoners can genuinely afford.

Cllr Rachel Blake is a Cabinet Member for Strategic Development, Tower Hamlets

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