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27 May 2015

Queen’s Speech 2015: A bad policy that will make the housing crisis worse

Far from helping with the housing crisis, the government's plans to sell off housing association stock will make matters worse.

By Tessa Jowell

The Queen has just delivered her government’s speech, setting out their programme for this year. Just across the river, council homes on the Vauxhall Gardens Estate are in danger of being forcibly sold as a result.

As rents and house prices continue to rise and the supply of housing fails to come anywhere near demand, Londoners worry about how they can continue to live and work in the city they love. They recognise that we are facing a serious homes crisis. And they understand that it’s a crisis we must tackle urgently if we are going to save everything that makes London great.

That is what makes the government’s right-to-buy extension, announced in today’s Queen’s Speech, so upsetting. It is a policy which is blind to what is happening in London. Indeed, it is a policy which appears almost designed to make London’s homes crisis even worse.

The government’s plan is to force housing associations to sell off homes at a massive discount, and to pay for it by making councils sell all their most valuable property. That would be a disaster for London. It would drain our city of affordable housing and make it even harder than it already is for Londoners to find somewhere to live. It would tear our city apart.

It’s a plan that will largely be paid for by London’s councils, but mostly benefit those outside the city. According to the National Housing Federation, just 15 per cent of London’s housing association tenants would be able to afford to buy their own homes under the proposals, compared with 35 per cent outside London. Yet the majority of the money raised from selling off council homes will be here in London with councils such as Camden, Westminster and Islington facing the prospect of selling a substantial proportion of their homes.

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As Mayor of London I want to oversee a big increase in the supply of social and affordable homes in London. But the government’s plans would require us to redouble our efforts just to stay in the same place. There are currently 255,000 households on waiting lists for social housing in London, a list that continues to grow as supply is unable to keep up with demand. But since discounted right to buy was brought back to London, for every 23 homes sold just one has been replaced. Under the new plans, instead of getting to grips with council waiting lists we would have to expend almost all of our energy, resources and land just to replace the homes that are being sold off.

I want to bring the city together as One London. But this policy would further divide London, rather than unite it. As the Institute for Fiscal Studies has said, selling off councils’ most valuable property would create “clearer divisions between areas where richer and poorer households are located”. In London this is a particular problem, with zones 1 and 2 threatening to become a millionaires’ playground – a no-go zone for the nurses, teachers and council workers on which our city relies.

There are big questions about the feasibility of the policy. The figures don’t appear to add up.  The funding from council home sales is unlikely to be enough to compensate housing associations, certainly in the early years of the policy. And the government will probably have to raid the national housing budget in order to make up the difference. So there will be a double whammy: fewer social homes as councils are obliged to sell their stock, and less funding for new social housing too. 

The last thing Londoners need right now is this government’s ill-designed plan to sell off our housing. It will lead to fewer homes for social rent and higher prices in the private rented sector. It will help empty inner London of everyone but the very richest. And it will put vast numbers of currently affordable homes into the hands of private landlords. In other words, it will make our homes crisis much, much worse.

Building a strong and successful London – One London – means Londoners having a home, at a price they can afford, where they feel safe and where they can put down roots. I’ve announced plans for a new Homes for Londoners authority to get London building the homes we need, for the first time since the 1980s. But this housing giveaway threatens to make that task much harder. That’s why I am determined to fight this proposal every step of the way.

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