Whoever is elected mayor tomorrow must tackle greedy landlords and build more homes
Tomorrow’s London Mayoral election is the first where private renters make up the largest tenure, outnumbering owners, mortgage holders and social tenants. It therefore presents a rare opportunity to extract commitments from politicians to make life better for those stuck paying high rents on insecure homes.
This is why Generation Rent, supported by Renters’ Rights London and PricedOut, created votehomes2016.com. The website compares six candidates’ policies across nine aspects of housing to help voters make an informed choice.
We’ve also rated each policy on a traffic light system to highlight good policies (green), those that are a step in the right direction (amber), and those that will do nothing to change the status quo (red).
Nearly all candidates agree that building more homes is key to address the underlying reason for renters’ hardship: a chronic shortage. Unfortunately, only one, George Galloway, is on record as being prepared to build on the green belt, which means that the two frontrunners will find it harder to find room for the minimum 50,000 homes a year that are needed.
Instead, their focus is on using publicly-owned brownfield land. One of the scandals of recent years has been the series of council estates being turned over to luxury flats with scraps for the local community.
Labour’s Sadiq Khan promises to build homes on this land directly. Lib Dem Caroline Pidgeon would place conditions on its use, while Green Party candidate Sian Berry would hand over some of it to community housing projects. The Tories’ Zac Goldsmith also admits the need for a ‘London Share’ of land that is built on.
While greater supply is essential, candidates have been careful to quell concerns about speculators snapping it all up. Khan would give Londoners first dibs while Goldsmith promises something almost identical. Unless these homes are available at a significant discount, they won’t really help many Londoners.
The good news is that Khan, Goldsmith, Caroline Pidgeon and Sian Berry all support the development of community land trusts which provide permanently low-cost homes to buy. And both frontrunners have committed to more than 1,000 homes over four years – a small start but a promising model.
Pidgeon offers another policy for first-time buyers by calling for a right of first refusal for a tenant if their landlord sells up. Rights like this are essential when communities are being forced out by landlords’ thirst for profit.
All candidates want genuinely affordable homes, with Khan and Berry committing to 50 per cent, and a new ‘living rent’. Goldsmith refuses to be drawn on what his affordable housing would look like, and has misleadingly attacked Khan’s ‘living rent’ as rent control. (If only!)
On funding, all candidates are suggesting new methods of raising investment or deterring speculation through housing bonds (Khan), pooling councils’ budgets (Goldsmith), raising council tax (Berry and Pidgeon) and taxing empty property (Galloway and UKIP’s Peter Whittle).
However, none has set out a clear indication of how much they will raise and how much this would build.
For the city’s private renters who feel increasingly stuck in a rip-off tenure, there is sadly not much in the mayor’s power to improve things, but whoever is elected will be committed to extracting a new deal for renters from the government.
Khan’s manifesto refers vaguely to strengthening renters’ rights over tenancy lengths and rent rises, while Goldsmith has set out greater detail about achieving something similar through the existing London Rental Standard (which would need government approval to make it mandatory).
We’re concerned that Goldsmith’s position contains a lot of caveats that weaken the tenant’s position, but to be fair he’s gone further than his national party.
The Westminster government is reluctant to improve security for renters, but they will find it difficult to ignore a mayor representing two million of them, especially if this apparent cross-party consensus continues.
Only last night a number of Conservative MPs attacked rip-off letting fees in a Commons debate, which is a very encouraging sign. Unfortunately, it might be a bit late to start changing the Housing and Planning Bill, which is now in its final stages.
Last week Generation Rent ran a social media campaign called #ventyourrent to highlight the problems that renters have across London (and the wider world joined in too). The experiences shared revealed huge problems in London with infestations, mould and, rather surprisingly, ceilings collapsing.
Londoners are paying colossal rents for borderline death-traps, and the next mayor can take a lead on addressing this.
Several councils are already licensing landlords, but London really needs a city-wide approach to stop the cowboys moving into an unregulated borough.
Khan, Pidgeon and Berry all back this, while Goldsmith, a member of a party that has been hostile to licensing, has been coy about his position. Though a beefed-up London Rental Standard could provide the capacity to weed out the worst landlords.
The two frontrunners have not gone as far on housing as we would have liked, but we do have the seeds of solutions to the crisis and our job is to keep the pressure on them to deliver.Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.