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Housing will define the London Mayoral election

Housing was one of Ken Livingstone’s success stories. Despite starting with very few housing powers and responsibilities, Livingstone skilfully used his planning powers and his leadership to promote housebuilding, especially on the major sites in the east of the capital, and to raise the proportion of homes built that are affordable.
Policies such as the target that 50 per cent of all homes built should be affordable; development should wherever possible be mixed tenure; there should be a larger share of family-sized homes – were allied to growing influence over central government’s housing capital expenditure leading to London’s biggest ever affordable housing budget.
Although the recession had a serious impact on private sector output, by 2008, when Boris Johnson took over, the prospects for housing in London were better than they had been for a generation.
Johnson’s policies, like those of the government, are highly ideological and damaging. There will be virtually no new social rented housing and the existing social rented stock will be reduced.
What little money is left after 60% cuts will be channelled into the so-called ‘Affordable Rent’ programme at rents of up to 80% of market rents. Johnson’s revised London Plan removes many of the policies that were most effective.
There has been no mitigation of the “Kosovo-style social cleansing” – to use Johnson’s own words – that will result from their housing benefit policies and the total benefit cap.
The prospect is that, were he to win, a new Livingstone mayoralty will spend three of its four years under the coalition, so the approach will have to be a mix of pragmatic policy and campaigning.
There are things the new Mayor can do to relieve the situation and champion London’s interests. A detailed report from the newly-formed London Labour Housing Group sets out what they might be.
For example:
• Limited funds can be identified to start a programme of social rented housing again, especially using public land;
• The 50% affordable rule – supported by the inspectors who assessed Johnson’s new plan – could be re-introduced;
• More pro-active planning with an emphasis on mixed communities and not
ghettoisation would challenge developers;

• A London-wide empty homes strategy could bring thousands of homes back into use;
• A new charter for private renting could engage tenants and landlords in a serious attempt to professionalise the sector and improve standards;
• The Mayor can push financial institutions into better mortgage policies for first time buyers and mortgage deposit guarantee schemes that could make a big difference for a lot of people;
• A new monitoring unit could track households being forced by the housing benefit changes to move across London, using the information to make sure poor and vulnerable people do not lose contact with essential services, social services support, schooling, and so on;
• A much bigger emphasis on co-operative and mutual solutions to housing needs, including Community Land Trusts.
Another vital role for a new Labour Mayor, were he to win, will be to prepare for a new Labour government in 2015, were Ed Miliband to be elected prime minister.
Livingstone has good relationships with Miliband and Ed Balls and a lot of preparatory work could go in to a new housing programme which should be at the centre of Labour’s economic, health and community re-building agendas as well as housing.
He should champion London’s interests through high-profile campaigning for a better housing deal – more genuinely affordable homes, less draconian benefit policies, mixed communities throughout London, the idea of a London Living Rent to match the London Living Wage.
There are a lot of ideas around at present for Livingstone to build on for the campaign to beat Johnson – from the Green party’s Jenny Jones AM, the Pro-Housing Alliance, the London Assembly Housing and Planning Committee, and now London Labour Housing Group have all produced serious proposals that deserve to be taken up.
Livingstone’s housing record was a good one; Johnson’s is dreadful. The task for progressives is to convince Londoners they can vote for a better way next May.
This post has also been published on Left Foot Forward.
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Less for Less for London: Boris in a spin over affordable housing

Boris ‘codswallop’ Johnson’s failures in housing are becoming clearer as the London mayoral Election campaign hots up.  It may be that his calamities in other areas achieve bigger headlines – dismissing the importance of the hacking scandal was a very big misjudgement, and losing so many senior police officers seems slightly careless – and he has begun to show a grumpy side to his character that belies his carefully crafted jovial upper class twit image.
London was starting to do well in housing when Johnson took over in 2008.  Ken Livingstone’s London Plan and Housing Strategy policies were beginning to bite and have real effect, policies such as the 50% affordable target across London were well known and understood by developers, and, despite the global financial crisis, Ken had secured the largest housing budget for decades from the Labour Government.  The Homes and Communities Agency outturn statement confirms that expenditure between 2008 and 2011 (ie the period covering Ken’s planned programme) in London was £3,753m, £1,251m a year over three years.
The newly announced programme of £157m a year for four years represents a cut of 87% and the gap will have to be made up by much greater housing association borrowing.  In April Stephen Howlett, then Chair of the G15 Group of major Housing Associations, told the London Assembly Planning and Housing Committee: “I think one calculation is that, to deliver the Mayor’s programme, will take as much private money over the next four years as associations have borrowed since 1988 to deliver the homes in London. Those exact figures are open to comment but I have to emphasise that housing associations in London will be taking on enormously increased debt and risk as a result of this.
Commenting on the announcement by the Mayor and the Homes and Communities Agency on the allocation of funding for affordable house building to London, Nicky Gavron AM, Labour Group Spokesperson for Planning and Housing on the London Assembly, said:

Despite the Mayor putting a brave face on it, London is getting less for less.
The new information is that the Mayor has been given only £627 million to spend on affordable housing between 2011 and 2015. This is a cut to London of 87% compared with the previous funding round.
From 2008 the last Government gave London £5bn to spend on affordable housing, of which £3.7bn was used to deliver 50,000 affordable homes by 2011. Johnson missed this deadline and £1.1bn of this new package is to finish the job and is committed to homes  already in the pipeline.
To make up for the Government’s cuts, the private sector contributions of £2.5bn announced in his press release will come from borrowing by housing associations. This is more in four years than they have collectively borrowed since the late 80s. This model  of funding is not sustainable.
The settlement also confirms that 1,500 homes in the pipeline and funded under the previous Government’s programme as social housing – the lowest-cost housing for rent, which is so desperately needed – have been lost in London because they will now be converted to the so called ‘Affordable Rent’* model. In many cases this will double rents for low-income households in London and price many families out of the housing market.
In the context of housing benefit caps, welfare reforms and rising homelessness, the growing need in London is for low rent family housing. But this deal is particularly damaging for families. We understand that only around 30% of the homes will be family sized. This seriously undermines Boris Johnson’s pledge that 42% of new homes should be for families, a fact omitted from his announcement.

*The London Assembly Planning and Housing Committee recently published a report on the impact of the Affordable Rent model on London, the findings of which are summarised here.

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In praise of Ken (and maybe Boris)

<strong><span class="has-inline-color has-accent-color">Steve Hilditch</span></strong>
Steve Hilditch

Editor and Founder of Red Brick. Former Head of Policy for Shelter. Select Committee Advisor for Housing and Homelessness. Drafted the first London Mayor’s Housing Strategy under Ken Livingstone.

Feeling (uncharacteristically since May) in a positive frame of mind, I had planned three posts this week all of which intended to say something good about government policy.  It was only after some cogitation that I realised all three of the ideas I liked were leftovers from Labour administrations but I am willing to give credit where it is due if the coalition picks up and implements sensible reforms.  Unfortunately, of the three – Boris Johnson’s plans for social housing mobility in London, the council housing finance proposals, and strong steps towards encouraging mutualisation in housing – the latter two announcements have been deferred with the Localism Bill from this week until a point in the future.  I certainly don’t feel able to commend the coalition until I’ve seen confirmation of the plans in writing.

So, for the moment, that leaves Mayor Johnson and mobility for social tenants, which will hopefully be a precursor to improvements in mobility for tenants nationally as well.  His consultation paper, introduced in the Mayor’s usual combative style, can in fact be sourced back to Mayor Livingstone’s housing strategy.  Of course, Johnson eschews the opportunity to highlight a bipartisan measure in favour of trying to take all the credit for himself.

Livingstone’s approach to mobility had two drivers in addition to the principle that more mobility for social tenants was a good thing in itself.  First, The London Plan had a major focus on redeveloping swathes of east London where very large housing sites were available and there were huge opportunities to create sustainable new communities (including the Olympic sites).  But if a large and increasing share of London’s available capital resources went to support new affordable homes in only a few boroughs, a mechanism had to found to ensure that the benefits of new development were more widely shared amongst Londoners as a whole.  

Existing sub-regional arrangements, good in themselves, were not enough and a pan-London mobility scheme, starting with a share of new development and growing gradually to take in a share of re-lets across the capital, became an essential element of the Plan.  Secondly, Livingstone identified a particular problem with wheelchair standard and other homes adapted for disabled people.  Frequently such homes were being let to people not in need of them whilst others in dire need were not eligible because they did not live in the same borough.  A wider geographic system and pan-London register of dwellings and households was needed to make best use of these scarce resources.  

These are good examples of circumstances where localism is not enough and a wider area or regional approach is essential for good policy.  Anyone reading the consultation paper will be struck by how complex it can be to achieve a balance between local, sub-regional, regional and cross-regional needs. 

The consultation paper shows some concern that the government’s proposals on tenure (with much more flexibility given to landlords to vary the length and terms of some tenancies) will make mobility schemes harder to operate: users are already often bewildered by the complexity of existing schemes.  And it is also sensible in arguing that the scheme should not incorporate much by way of ‘conditionality’ – such as a requirement that tenants moving must be in or accessing work or training.  

Overall, it must be said, the consultation paper shows little actual progress since Johnson took over, now 2 ½ years ago.  Livingstone had put in place the necessary requirements on landlords as part of the 2008-11 London affordable housing programme.  We should be well beyond the stage of a consultation paper.  The paper itself is still aspirational in tone and a long way from real fruition.  It may be that it will not be implemented until Mayor Livingstone is back on the throne in 2012.

Mobility for London’s social tenants: An HCA London Board Consultation, December 2010.