London's Next Mayor Must Give Londoners More Control Over Their Homes
David Lammy, Huffington Post, 5th June 2015. Click here to get to the original article.
Those who say we aren't building new homes in London are wrong. We are: the cranes going up across the city are evidence of that. The problem is that the homes being built are mostly luxury apartments that are sold off-plan to overseas investors, not the decent, family-sized homes that Londoners so desperately need. Under Boris, a pitiful 8,700 'affordable' homes were built last year - less than half the 26,000 affordable homes that need to be built every year. It's no wonder that we've seen groups like the Focus E15 mums fighting for a right to a home in the capital - they voice the needs and fears of millions of Londoners. Meanwhile, the Times Rich List shows that London is now home to more billionaires than any other city in the world. This is what the housing crisis in London looks like.
Those who want to be Mayor have a duty to explain not only how they'll build more homes but also how they'll make those homes genuinely affordable for Londoners. Affordability has become an empty, meaningless term in the capital under Boris Johnson because of his decision to move the goalposts to allow an 'affordable' rent to be charged up to 80% of market value. This is far too high to mean anything to the thousands trying to live in the capital on an average income. I've already said that I will reduce this limit to 50% of market value and peg affordable rents to local people's earnings.
The Mayor needs to be much stricter in determining what kinds of homes are built, and ensuring that public land given to developers is actually used to build the type and size of homes that Londoners need. He or she will need to be energetic and resilient enough to stand up to the vested interests who want to keep things how they are.
But it can't just be a top-down approach. The next Mayor must also give London's communities more control over their housing. This should involve a massive expansion of Community Land Trusts and housing co-operatives. This won't solve the housing crisis overnight - nothing will. But giving Londoners more control over land in their area is a key part of my plan for making London's housing market work as well for Londoners as it currently does for developers and landlords.
For those who don't have their heads rooted in housing policy, Community Land Trusts are local organisations set up and run by local people to develop and manage homes within their community. They take control of land and ensure that it is used and managed effectively to benefit the whole community - not, as is currently the case, for wealthy investors using London's land as a global currency. The main task of CLTs is to make sure homes are genuinely affordable, based on what people actually earn in an area. They originated in the United States, where Community Land Trusts are now a key part of the housing system - the largest American CLT now owns 2000 homes. Community Land Trusts are gradually becoming part of the fabric of UK housing - over here a new one is formed every week.
Things are already moving in the right direction. There are now 19 Community Land Trusts in the capital and 170 across the country. The East London Community Land Trust - the first to be set up in London - is selling homes at a price that is affordable to those in Mile End who earn an average wage of £30,000. Working in collaboration with developers Galliford Try, they will provide 23 homes that are genuinely affordable to people in the area. This proves that it can be done, and demonstrates the direction we need to move in if we want to redefine affordability in the capital.
Community Land Trusts mirror the ambitions and wishes of all Londoners - the desire to provide homes so sons and daughter can remain in the communities they were brought up, and the desire for power and responsibility to be shared by local people and based around local needs. This idea - of placing opportunity and power in the hands of all Londoners - is at the heart of my campaign to be Mayor of London.
Land Trusts also do more than simply build housing - they provide community pubs, shops and work spaces, allotments and managed open space, as well as spin-off social enterprises such as local social care services. In doing so, they can be part of the mechanisms we use to offer high quality apprenticeships and training, social care so that older people can remain in their homes, and jobs for local people. Giving more control over housing to London's patchwork of communities not only helps meet our housing needs, but also strengthens the communities we all live in.
However, to reach their full potential Community Land Trusts need more support from political leaders. In particular, the Mayor must support them in accessing affordable capital finance and land. The next Mayor should ensure that there is a presumption in favour of local communities that instructs developers to work alongside local people in building the homes that people in the area need. After all, it is only with the support of local communities that we will be able to build thousands of new homes for Londoners.
My bold plan for getting London building includes a big expansion of Community Land Trusts in the capital and constant mayoral support for local communities who want to take control of their land in their area. The new Homes for London organisation that I will set up would be tasked with supporting local communities with the funding and land they need to set up Community Land Trusts and housing co-operatives in their area. And by raising £10billion through issuing London Housing Bonds, I will create a significant pot of money to be spent on 30,000 social homes across London. I will encourage Community Land Trusts to apply for some of this money so we build a new generation of social homes while also giving local people control over those homes.
Land Trusts will never be able to provide all the homes this country needs, but they are growing forces that are part of the mix of mechanisms we need to deploy. With more support from the Mayor, Community Land Trusts can help London meet our housing needs and give local people real control over their lives and their futures.
David Lammy is the Labour MP for Tottenham and is seeking nomination to be Labour's London Mayoral candidate in 2016