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30 July 2015updated 02 Sep 2021 12:45pm

London’s housing problem has a simple solution – we need to build more. For that, we need Tessa Jowell

We need the Olympic spirit applied to housing, says the former head of London Labour.

By ken Clark

In case you missed it, an extraordinary fact illustrated London’s housing crisis: it is now cheaper to live in Madrid and commute four days a week to our capital than it is to rent a small flat in Camden.

In Newham, where I lead on regeneration issues, soaring costs of housing and appalling conditions plague thousands of residents. Three summers ago we played host to the world at the Olympic Games. Whilst we built thousands of affordable homes on the Olympic site using a model that could be replicated across the capital, too many of our residents still live in Dickensian conditions.

Today, we need a London Mayor who can bring the Olympic spirit to solving the housing crisis. Who would be more suitable than the original architect of the games, Tessa Jowell? Tessa’s One London vision is inspiring people across the city. That’s at least in part because when it comes to tackling London’s housing crisis, they know Tessa can deliver. 

Forty percent of Newham residents live in the private rented sector, where spiralling rents are driving people into squalor and destitution. I recently showed Tessa our enforcement scheme to tackle rogue private landlords. On one enforcement raid last month, we found 26 people living in a three bedroom house. Incredibly, this is not uncommon. Two residents paid for the privilege of living in a walk-in freezer.

This situation requires a focused and decisive response. To tackle landlords who exploit our residents’ desperation and expose them to dehumanising conditions, we created the UK’s first mandatory licensing scheme. Since its launch, we have made more than 500 prosecutions. Tessa Jowell has pledged to champion the rights of London’s boroughs to establish mandatory licensing for the private rental sector where they wish to do so. This is the first of many reasons why – when it comes to tackling London’s housing crisis – Tessa is the best choice for London mayor.

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Unlike the Government, Newham recognises that inadequate supply is at the root of booming house prices and soaring rents. So our house building company, Red Door Ventures, has developed a funding model that will enable us to build 3,000 affordable homes in the next ten years.

Similarly, Tessa Jowell has announced plans to get City Hall building again for the first time since the 1980s – starting on the Mayor’s own land. Her plan to establish ‘Homes for Londoners’ would create a new agency to bring housebuilding under direct control of the Mayor. The obvious starting place for new homes would be on public land. Transport for London, for instance, is sitting on land the size of Camden which could be used to provide 2,000 new homes a year.

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Newham’s approach offers a model for local authorities across London, and indeed the rest of the country. But instead of backing our solutions, the Tories undermine them. In April, the Government made it harder for councils to create landlord licensing schemes. Unlike them, Tessa Jowell would champion the rights of the boroughs to intervene in the private rented sector.

One in ten Londoners are on a housing waiting list, but the Government’s sell-off of social housing is making a bad situation worse. More than a third of social housing lost via Right to Buy is rented out for private profit. Moreover, with the new requirement that we sell our most valuable housing to pay for the housing association sell-off, our community is now forced to fund its own misery. Tessa understands the scale of the threat posed by the Government’s policies. She would be a tireless champion for London and Londoners, which is why we need her in City Hall.

Finally, we have to tackle the scandal of oligarchs buying property in London as assets, not as homes to live in. If we are going to crack this crisis, we need absentee owners to live in their property, rent them out or sell up. As Mayor, Tessa would push for new powers for councils like ours to levy higher penalties on those who leave homes empty for six months. 

Every Londoner should have a place to call home. Our citizens need the basic human dignity of safe and secure housing. We need new powers for local authorities, and a new Mayor to make it happen. 

Cllr Ken Clark is Cabinet Member for Regeneration & Planning, Public Affairs and Building Communities in the London Borough of Newham. He is also the former Director of the London Labour Party and former Head of Local Government in Scotland.