Z2K’s Policy Director Marc Francis sums up his response to the Mayor of London’s draft Housing Strategy
After a few weeks focussing on Z2K’s responses to the recent flurry of select committee inquiries and our campaign against Hackney Council’s plans to increase its Council Tax charges for disabled and unemployed residents, it’s been a breath of fresh air to read and respond to the draft London Housing Strategy.
With rents and house prices now pricing well paid middle-income earners out of the Capital, London’s housing crisis is now only denied by a very few. But Z2K’s focus has always been on solutions needed by those suffering at the sharp end and so we were genuinely pleased to see how this draft strategy calls out the policy failures of recent years and provides a renewed focus on those low-income Londoners in greatest housing need.
One of the most positive steps is a return to a definition of “affordable housing” that is based on a maximum of one-third of average incomes. For the past seven years, we have seen far too much of London’s limited Social Housing Grant being used to build “Affordable Rent” homes that are not really affordable to those on low incomes unless they get Housing Benefit. Worse still, the shared ownership homes now being built in inner-London are being marketed at those with incomes up to £90,000 – a misuse of taxpayers money in our view.
While it does not yet go quite as far as we want, the Mayor’s new “London Affordable Rent”, which the strategy says will be set at similar levels to the social target rents used prior to 2010, will be welcomed by those languishing on Council Housing Waiting Lists across London. We are less persuaded by the London Living Rents model, but do recognise that some kind of discounted market rent scheme is beneficial to young professionals who won’t ever be prioritised for social housing. We would also like to see the Mayor phase out the current broken shared ownership model, and replace it with genuinely affordable home ownership options, like Community Land Trusts.
We welcome the strategy’s proposals for tackling homelessness, especially those designed to get rough sleepers off the street. However, we think the Mayor should be thinking about what he can do in the Capital to strengthen the Government’s recently-announced £20 million “Help to Rent” initiative won so brilliantly by Crisis. He must also challenge those boroughs unlawfully placing homeless families in Bed and Breakfast rooms for longer than six weeks. Similarly, he could be bolder in improving the rights of private tenants.
One area we would like the strategy to go much further is in helping overcrowded families. It is now seven years since the former Mayor published his action plan to tackle overcrowding in social housing. Its central target was that there should be “No more than 5,500 severely overcrowded households in social housing in London by 31 December 2016.” There was never an official estimate of the numbers of children who were due to benefit from this policy, but a target of 5,500 households almost certainly represented fewer than 10 per cent of the 391,000 overcrowded children in London at that point in time.
We hope Sadiq Khan will agree to include an ambitious new target to reduce the total number of families living in overcrowded conditions by 2024, and also take up the other ideas in Z2K’s response.