Sadiq Khan called the election campaign to be London’s Mayor a “housing policy referendum”. Quite rightly, given the outrageous cost of housing in London, whether rented or to buy, and given that Zac Goldsmith, for the Tories, seemed only to be committed to more of the same. What housing was to be built would be unaffordable for anyone not in the wealthy bracket.
With housing in London consuming up to half of residents’ disposable income - together with a serious shortage which leads to homelessness, families staying too long in bed and breakfast, and others sent away from London to be housed - drastic action is necessary.
During the campaign, under some pressure from housing campaigners and Labour Party members, Khan at times agreed to push for rent controls in London, something practised in many other big cities around the world. However, his preferred option, and one he has promoted since his election (while dropping the rent controls policy) is of a ‘London Living Rent’, a much weaker commitment to a below-market rent that would be offered in new build properties and would be a third of average renters’ income. While this will obviously be welcomed by those moving into new properties, it does nothing to address the sky-high rents already being paid.
Khan has also backtracked on other promises. He pledged that new housing schemes should contain 50% “genuinely affordable” properties. Leaving aside the looseness of that definition, Khan in his role as planning supremo for London has since allowed schemes to proceed where only 35% is “genuinely affordable”.
On regeneration schemes, a highly contentious issue in London, often used to drive the less well-off out of an area and replace council estates by luxury flats, Khan initially committed to allowing existing residents a vote on whether such schemes should proceed. That policy has now been dropped, giving councils and developers the green light to proceed as before.
As ever, the resistance of property developers (and big-business housing associations) is being cited as the reason for dropping these crucial policies. But their attitude was well known in advance. What is needed is a willingness to face them down and enforce a housing policy which really is in the interests of the working class of London.