Boris's housing policy fails the poor

The Mayor's housing policies only perpeturate London's wealth and class divisions.

The mayor of London's new and greater powers over housing should provide a springboard for radical advance, both for the present more difficult economic situation and in preparation for economic recovery.

But as the housing minister John Healey wrote in his formal response to Tory housing policy for the capital "the overall housing targets described in the plan fall short of the National Housing and Planning Advice Unit's lower range for the housing need in London. This means that even if this target is met, London will still not be dealing with the central problem of affordability in the city."

Under a key plank of the London-wide policy that I set - that half of all new homes should be affordable - developers and boroughs had to strive to do their utmost to meet the housing needs of Londoners. By the time of the London mayoral elections in 2008 that policy was already delivering more cheap homes than at any time since 1977.

You might well ask, if the policy of reducing pressure for affordable homes is so effective why did it not deliver when the Tories were last in power? The answer is obvious - reduced pressure on developers and borough planning committees is the wrong approach.

The mayor's office has had considerable difficulty in agreeing its housing targets, including in Tory boroughs like Barnet, where Labour councillors were told as recently as January 2010 [question 18] that: "The affordable housing target has not been finalised with the Mayor of London. Until funding is agreed nobody is in a position to know what is possible."

The targets have no legal force. When the housing market picks and development begins again the truth is that the degree of pressure for new cheap homes in each new development will be down.

The numerical targets for affordable homes in the draft London plan add up to 13,200 new homes per annum set against an annual provision target of 33,380: or 39.5 per cent of the total overall supply. So the strategic affordable housing target has quietly been cut by 10.5 per cent from fifty per cent.

John Healey points out that Boris Johnson has "stretched" his manifesto commitment to build 50,000 affordable homes over three years.

There will be a reduction in the social housing element of the overall affordable housing figure from seventy per cent to sixty per cent. The intermediate housing threshold is being raised from £61k to £74k per household, spreading the money more thinly. All of this is to the detriment of those on the lowest incomes.

If City Hall were an outpost of enlightened Conservative thinking it would be in a powerful position to contradict the most right wing ideas emerging from the Tory party - such as the risk to security of tenure for council tenants or the Petri-dish policies of Hammersmith and Fulham. But the London Tory administration does not lift a finger.

Boris Johnson gave a key pledge in his campaign to free up land owned by his agencies for affordable housing. Nearly two years in and not a single piece of real concrete progress has been made. That's despite government encouraging Johnson to proceed with these commitments. Meanwhile last week the government announced the first housing projects around Britain - for Newcastle, Doncaster and Milton Keynes - under its own programme to encourage public land to be used for cheaper homes.

The then-Shelter Chief Executive Adam Sampson has argued that Boris Johnson's housing policies "serve merely to perpetuate the wealth and class divisions in the nation's capital." Conservative party policy for housing in London is taking the debate about homes for Londoners backwards.

Ken Livingstone is the former Mayor of London.

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