MANIFESTO

“In the first decade and a half of the twenty-first century London started consuming itself with accelerating voracity. Change tended to happen in one direction, towards the conversion of all qualities into investment value, especially that of residential property. Such change tends towards sterilisation and irreversibility, without a crash or an external catastrophe such as war. It threatened qualities that might have been thought fundamental to the city: its availability, generosity, fluidity and social diversity. It looked as if London would consume itself at a rate that might liquefy into profit its vital organs of work and society. Most obviously its desirable areas, its quite nice areas and even those that were just about tolerable were being priced out of range of most of its citizens. More subtle were the ways in which its freedom and pleasures, even as they grew in sophistication and abundance, were priced and scripted.

After thirty five years in which private interests have again led the growth of the city, it is time for another adjustment. There is already something wrong with a place that expels its poor and puts decent homes beyond the reach of many of its citizens. Even if the problem is seen only in functional and not human terms, a city will struggle to succeed if it can no longer house the people who teach, clean, nurse, treat, make repair, build, plan, design, create, cook, serve, police, drive and entertain. If the city is to grow to ten million, the current responses will be – as they already are – inadequate. In their failures, they are also causing damage to the physical environment of the city, wasting its opportunities and endangering its richness. The questions are what would a new intervention look like and what would be its principles? These should be based on what sort of city is desirable and possible.”

Slow Burn City, London in the Twenty First Century

Rowan Moore, architecture writer for the Observer

Housing is the foundation of any democracy. A home provides people with the means whereby they can participate in the democratic process. In a democracy people exercise their right to vote and elect representatives to speak on their behalf. The failure over the past thirty-five years by politicians to build sufficient homes has lessened people’s belief in the democratic process. Housing has been described by housing academics as the “wobbly pillar” of the welfare state; the failure by politicians to provide people with the basic requirements by which they can not only participate in the democratic process as well as live their lives has undermined the “wobbly pillar” of our democracy – the belief that voting will make any difference. It was for that reason that I founded the House Party; to restore people’s faith in democracy as well as fulfilling the requirement that John Ruskin, the nineteenth century social reformer, believed was the first duty of a state, “to see that every child born there within shall be well housed”.

It is a pity that London isn’t Scotland. In 2104 following the vote on whether Scotland should breakaway from the rest of the United Kingdom the Conservative government devolved all powers as regarding housing to the Scottish Parliament. That said, as Simon Parker writes in his recently published book, Taking power back; putting people in charge of politics, “There is very little point in devolving more power unless cities also get more control of their own funding.”That is what Scotland has won. A similar settlement would go a long way to solving the housing crisis in London.

It is a point reiterated by Kate Barker in her 2014 booklet Housing: where’s the plan? (Kate Barker, an economist, was a member of the Bank of England Monetary Policy Committee for several years. Previously she had been asked to head an inquiry into the impediments restricting housing supply more than a decade ago by the Treasury under Gordon Brown). Housing matters, she begins. “We all need a home and we all want to live in a pleasant place. We talk about the housing market endlessly. But too few people really understand the underlying economics of the market and how housing interacts with, planning and taxation.” To which she adds that a perfect housing market cannot be created but it can be made fairer and less harmful.

Making the housing market fairer and less harmful has not been the aim of the present government. The chief aim of the government is to help “more people to buy a home” as stated on the website of the Department of the Communities and Local Government (2013). In its efforts to increase home ownership it has helped first-time buyers with discounts to get on the housing ladder but has been done little to increase the overall supply of homes. It is no surprise that the government’s efforts have been described by Kate Barker as ineffective knee-jerk and populist policies to help first-time buyers that have lead to the exorable prise in house prices and if not deflated will lead to a repeat of the reversal in the rise of home ownership that occurred after the financial crash of 2007-8. Kate Barker believes that the government has failed to “effectively tackle the underlying issues that have emerged over recent decades, including a widening gulf in wealth between those in owner-occupation and those out of it, and the resulting concerns about inequality between generations.” The concerns about inequality will rise, she adds “If supply does not respond sufficiently to demand, then the outcomes is obvious: prices rise and, what is worse, they are expected to continue rising. This means there is a big incentive for those who can afford it to invest in housing, while others get left further and further behind.”

The coalition government of 2010-15 introduced specific initiatives to help first-time buyers, but since the 2015 general election one of the first pieces of legislation that it proposes is the extension of home ownership to over 1.3 million housing association tenants. The Bill has been described by a member of the House of Lords as a “most ill-conceived piece of legislation” during a debate on its proposals. It would have been better had the government followed the example of Scottish Parliament who in May 2010 – the same month as the coalition government took power – and invited people to contribute to a national consultation on housing. In February 2011 the Scottish Parliament Government published their Strategy for Housing for the next decade. A key element of the strategy was abolishing right to buy. The 2014 Housing Act (Scotland) abolished the ‘Right to Buy’ for all social housing tenants in Scotland. (In Scotland it is also unlawful to charge people a fee when trying to rent a home, for carrying out credit checks, for checking and preparing an inventory of items in a property, an administrative charge to renew an existing tenancy, any non-refundable ‘holding fees’ or similar payment as an inducement to grant a tenancy, a charge for arranging duplicate copies of a lease, a payment to transfer formally a tenancy to someone else and the sale of furniture to a tenant at an excessive price. List complied by Oxford University professor Danny Dorling for his book, All that is Solid)

It is regrettable that the Conservative government’s has decided to do the opposite of the Scottish government and extend the right to buy to housing association tenants. Extending the right to buy to housing association tenants will only make the housing crisis worse because in order to compensate housing associations for the loss of homes from their housing it is proposed that the proceeds from the sale of “high-value” (undefined) council homes when they become vacant will be given to housing associations. It is a decision that has been endorsed by the Conservative candidate for Mayor, Zac Goldsmith.

Zac Goldsmith also supports the proposal put forward by Lord Andrew Adonis, formerly ‘Tessa Jowell’s brain’ when she was a candidate for the Labour Party nomination for Mayor, that demolishing London’s 3,500 council estates is the best way of regenerating London’s public housing stock Andrew Adonis wants to turn them into ‘city villages’. From past experiences such redevelopments will not be for former residents.

The Right to Buy Act has had a devastating effect on local authority housing stock in London. Over 271,438 council homes have been lost since 1980. The Labour government failed to repeal the Act and as a result 85,354 homes were sold and were replaced by only 880 homes. It has been shown that around a third of homes sold are now part of the private rented sector. It has also been shown that some homes are now rented back to the local authority to which they used to belong.

THE CASE FOR DEVOLVING FINANCIAL CONTROL TO LONDON

The big impediment, Kate Barker writes, “Is that housing policy is currently split among several government departments and independent regulators. Some roles should be consolidated, and priorities clearly identified.” If there is no unified approach, housing market policies will remain incoherent and the housing crisis will deepen each year. That is the approach that the next Mayor and members of the London Assembly should make to the government. By coincidence it is the conclusion of the timely London Housing Commission report on housing in London published in March, under its chairman Sir Bob Kerslake, former head of the Civil Service, former chief executive of Sheffield City Council and currently chairman of the social housing provider Peabody. The report recommends that the Greater London Authority and the London boroughs would be better able to address the housing crisis if they were given new powers by central government. By doing so they could pitch for the same deal that Scotland has wrought from Westminster. By coming together they could ask government for a new devolution deal in order to double the annual supply of homes by 2020 – the year of the next general election and Mayoral election. The report concluded that there is no single root cause of London’s housing crisis but identified a great many barriers –from land to planning, investment and skills as well as regulation – to building affordable decent homes in sufficient numbers.

Even before a new deal is done there is much the Mayor and the boroughs can do. They can speed up the release and development of public land, which has been identified as not in use by the London Land Commission for building homes. (It is essential that its chairman should be replaced. Having someone from the commercial sector in charge of the disposal of public land is totally inappropriate.)

Planners from the Greater London Authority should be seconded to Transport for London to review the potential for developments around tube, bus and rail stations. In exchange for improved public amenities a review of greenbelt land near transport sites whilst extending the greenbelt in other places. Support neighbourhoods to conduct their own local plans to identify opportunities to regenerate small sites not currently in the London Plan. The Mayor and the boroughs will need to demonstrate that when a devolution deal is done they have the plans in place to ensure that these commitments can be delivered. To do so they should also commit to take a number of specific actions, so that there is no delay in their implementation.

THERE WILL BE plans put in place to identify sufficient land to deliver at least 50,000 a year for the next decade, to significantly increase the volume and speed of planning approvals by increasing the capacity of borough’s planning departments and creating a London inspectorate, to earmark a significant proportion of public land for new privately rented housing, to take an active lead in the nurturing of housing and planning skills in the public and private sector. Devolve powers to
London from the National Planning Policy Framework. Allow the London Housing Committee to set planning fees. Increase investment in social housing. Allow the GLA and the boroughs to borrow more for house building and infrastructure.

Devolve stamp duty to London in the same way as the government’s recent devolution of business rates to local authorities. The replacement of stamp duty by a land tax should be considered by the next Mayor. In February 2016 the Planning Committee of the London Assembly published a report on the introduction of a Land Tax. It came to the conclusion that a land tax may be one way of accelerating the new house building
London so desperately needs.

Boroughs should be allowed to charge council tax premiums on empty and second homes. In the long term London must have more responsibility for raising its own capital expenditure through fiscal devolution. The shortfall in the Mayor’s capital funding programme should be urgently addressed.

One possibility on how to fund the gap left by the reduction of government grant is the establishment of a London lottery. The national lottery has turned into a national joke since the cost of a ticket was raised from £1 to £2 and the choice of numbers was increased from
49 to 59. This has resulted in multiple rollovers and the inexplicable outcome of one draw which saw people with 4 out of the 6 winning numbers being paid £51 and people lucky enough to pick five numbers only £15. The numbers should be reduced to 39 – as in Ireland – and the price of a ticket to £1.

It is ironic that station announcers on London
Underground tell passengers – sorry customers – who use
Bank station to ‘mind the gap’ as trains emerge from the tunnel. (Memo: to head of Transport for London, stop using the word ‘customers’) They mean the gap between the train and the edge of the platform. Yet it is the ‘tax gap’ that people should be more concern to the millions of people who use the underground each day. The ‘tax gap’ is the difference between what the tax authorities collect and what would do if everyone played by the letter of the rules. A report in 2008 by Richard Murphy, the founder of the Tax Justice Network, revealed that companies were avoiding paying tax to the tune of £12 billion. For individuals the amount was £13 billion.

One way for rich people can avoid paying tax is to set up a company in an offshore tax haven and make it look as if the company owns the property. Such ploys have been used by companies in the City of London to facilitate such deals. The housing crisis has been acerbated by the influx of rich people seeking a safe haven for their money. Due to its lax tax laws London has been described as the launderette for dirty money. (Journalist Peter Pomerentisev, author of The Surreal Heart of the New Russia said, “London now has a reputation for being the money laundering capital of the world. If you want to become acceptable and legitimate, if you’re a Russian you buy something in London.”)

This is also the conclusion of Sheffield University Political Economy Research Institute following a two-year assessment of International Capital Flows into London Property. It states that growing international investment in London property comes at a time of rising social inequality and significant distress in the capital’s housing market. Furthermore, “Central government’s austerity measures continue to be felt via welfare cuts and there is inertia on increasing the supply of affordable housing. With much new-build housing constructed to meet the desires of international investors and provide them with secure assets it seems that the private market is doing little to tackle housing need for middle and low-income households. The housing crisis has not appeared to affect the laissez-faire attitude of government to international investment patterns and the impact on the capital which have left many neighbourhoods with slender resident populations and homes used purely as investment vehicles.”

Echoing Rowan Moore the report adds that if London is to remain a vibrant, creative and inclusive city it must find new ways to plan for substantial increases in affordable housing. One way of funding its provision would be to impose a sales levy on homes with a value of more than £5 million. Another measure which will receive a lot of attention following the release of the Panama Papers will be for the closure of taxation and investment vehicle loopholes. “There is a need for more creative thinking and interest in how the property system is used to shield monies made through illicit means globally. This requires investigating and finding ways of re-orientating the culture of the financial services sector to emphasise its role as a national, city and community wealth creator. Global coordination will be required to develop effective international codes and rules regarding flows of capital. International rules are needed to assist national policymakers and financial institutions who will otherwise face the pernicious choice of seeking to unilaterally impose tighter controls while other countries may benefit from new competitive advantages. In addition, real estate and development control systems in the UK are not configured to identify money launderers. Details of ownership should be made public and on this basis money laundering checks should be made by national and local authorities.”

Data obtained as a result of research by the Financial Times checking Land Registry files shows that almost one in 10 properties in Kensington and Chelsea is owned through a “secrecy jurisdiction” such as the British Virgin Islands, Jersey or Panama. Even inner city boroughs such as Lambeth, Camden and Tower Hamlets have more than a thousand properties owned by overseas companies. The highest is Westminster with over 6,500 properties registered to overseas companies. The information from the Panama Papers has focused the spotlight the ownership of London property via offshore companies by people of corruption overseas.

The National Crime Agency believes that millions of pounds are laundered through the UK, though it does not know how much criminal proceeds are invested in the UK property market. What this has done, according to Transparency International, is push up house prices. Since 2004 UK property worth £180 million has been subject to criminal investigation as suspected proceeds of corruption. Transparency International states that UK property can be acquired anonymously, anti-money-laundering checks can by bypassed with relative ease. That comes from flaws in the UK anti-money-laundering system. To invest in luxury property in London you know your investment is safe.

One other way some countries have taken to stopping money laundering by foreign nationals is to ban foreign nationals from buying property. Civitas, a think tank that focus on the study of civil society, in a report, Finding Shelter, by David G Green and David Bentley, believes that the approach taken by

Switzerland, Denmark, Singapore and Australia in particular should be examined. Australia prevents non-residents and short-term visa holders from investing in residential property unless their investment will add to the housing stock. Overseas investors could buy into a
‘non-resident’ housing investment agency.

Nicholas Shaxson at the end of his book Treasure Islands on tax havens published in 2012 writes it is time to change the culture, it is time for the great global debate about tax havens to begin in earnest. He sees “the offshore system is perhaps the strongest determinant of how political and economic power works in this world. It helps rich people, companies and countries stay on top, for no good economic or political reason. It’s the battleground of the rich versus the poor, you versus the corporation, the (tax) havens against the democracies.” To that end the members of the new London Assembly should add a City of London scrutiny committee to its roster and request eminent figures from the City of London to come and explain how their activities benefit the rest of London.

It is hoped that the Panama Papers will give politicians the political will it has hitherto lacked to bring an end to the enclaves of the elite. Gordon Brown promised in
1993 to “end the tax abuses which reach to the heart of our public finances by indulging the super-rich at the expense of all the rest of us.” Ironically it is David Cameron who is hosting a summit in May on tax havens. (“Panama has become one of the filthiest money laundering sinks in the world.” Jeffrey Robinson, the Sink: how banks, lawyers and accountants finance terrorism and crime – and why governments can’t stop them.)

By May the Housing and Planning Bill will have returned to the House of Lords to consider the hundreds of amendments tabled by opposition peers. One amendment is that London should be exempt from the stupid Starter Homes programme. (Killing the Bill would be preferable) The equally stupid right-to-buy plans should be shelved and that housing associations properties in London should be fully funded through general government revenue in order to allow for the full replacement of social rented homes. It should not be funded through the sale of high-value local authority homes. The government’s plans to sell off high-value council homes, especially in inner London, is social cleansing by another name.

In order to accelerate delivery the government should devolve responsibility to London its share of the large sites infrastructure programme and allocate resources to get stalled sites moving. Permission already exists to build 100,000 homes in the capital but which haven’t started. Essential to the construction sector is that the adult skills funding is devolved to London so that there is a supply of skilled workers to replace a fifth of the labour force who are due to retire in the next decade.

THERE WILL BE plans put in place to regulate the private rented market. The present conditions in the private rented sector are reminiscent of the 1960s. Whereas in the 1960s landlords used physical force to

‘persuade’ tenants to leave, today they just – try – to raise the rents knowing that there will be no problem finding someone desperate enough to pay their asking price.

Just as the slum dwellings of the 1960s resulted in a number of charities representing people who had been forced onto the street, fifty years later several groups have come together to speak on behalf of tenants in the private rented sector. They include Generation Rent, Priced out and Renters Rights. Generation Rent have set out a number of measures that would give tenants in the private sector the same rights as tenants in the public sector.
(They recognise also that the Mayor currently lacks a number of powers, both to intervene in the private rented sector and to deal with current developments and existing housing stock.) They want to see a new strategic direction – an adjustment i(They recognise also that the Mayor currently lacks a number of powers, both to intervene in the private rented sector and to deal with current developments and existing housing stock.) They want to see a new strategic direction – an adjustment in Rowan Moore’s words – regards pumping more social housing into the city which would take the pressure off the private rented sector and dampen rent inflation.

THERE WILL BE a reform in the viability assessment(They recognise also that the Mayor currently lacks a number of powers, both to intervene in the private rented sector and to deal with current developments and existing housing stock.) They want to see a new strategic direction – an adjustment in Rowan Moore’s words – regards pumping more social housing into the city which would take the pressure off the private rented sector and dampen rent inflation.(They recognise also that the Mayor currently lacks a number of powers, both to intervene in the private rented sector and to deal with current developments and existing housing stock.) They want to see a new strategic direction – an adjustment in Rowan Moore’s words – regards pumping more social housing into the city which would take the pressure off the private rented sector and dampen rent inflation.

THERE WILL BE a reform in the viability assessment system. Viability in planning is plainly failing to deliver the housing needed for the city. London can no longer be in a position where it does not know the housing mix it will get from new developments and where the decisions are not open to neighbourhoods and taxpayers. Measures must need to be taken to revise current viability assessments and to ultimately abolish the development viability system in the long-term.

Until that happens the details of viability assessments should be made available in full to local authorities and the public so they can make informed decisions on the validity of a development plan.

Rosie Walker, along with Samir JeraJ, have written a book, the Rent Trap, about renting in the private rented sector in London. One of the people interviewed for the book is a former tenancy relations officer with Lewisham council. He says there has been an explosion in letting agents in recent years. In Lewisham in the early 1990s,

THERE WILL BE a reform in the viability assessment system. Viability in planning is plainly failing to deliver the housing needed for the city. London can no longer be in a position where it does not know the housing mix it will get from new developments and where the decisions are not open to neighbourhoods and taxpayers. Measures must need to be taken to revise current viability assessments and to ultimately abolish the development viability system in the long-term.

Until that happens the details of viability assessments should be made available in full to local authorities and the public so they can make informed decisions on the validity of a development plan.

Rosie Walker, along with Samir JeraJ, have written a book, the Rent Trap, about renting in the private rented sector in London. One of the people interviewed for the book is a former tenancy relations officer with Lewisham council. He says there has been an explosion in letting agents in recent years. In Lewisham in the early 1990s, system. Viability in planning is plainly failing to deliver the housing needed for the city. London can no longer be in a position where it does not know the housing mix it will get from new developments and where the decisions are not open to neighbourhoods and taxpayers. Measures must need to be taken to revise current viability assessments and to ultimately abolish the development viability system in the long-term.

Until that happens the details of viability assessments should be made available in full to local authorities and the public so they can make informed decisions on the validity of a development plan.

Rosie Walker, along with Samir JeraJ, have written a book, the Rent Trap, about renting in the private rented sector in London. One of the people interviewed for the book is a former tenancy relations officer with Lewisham council. He says there has been an explosion in letting agents in recent years. In Lewisham in the early 1990s,n Rowan Moore’s words – regards pumping more social housing into the city which would take the pressure off the private rented sector and dampen rent inflation.

THERE WILL BE a reform in the viability assessment system. Viability in planning is plainly failing to deliver the housing needed for the city. London can no longer be in a position where it does not know the housing mix it will get from new developments and where the decisions are not open to neighbourhoods and taxpayers. Measures must need to be taken to revise current viability assessments and to ultimately abolish the development viability system in the long-term.

Until that happens the details of viability assessments should be made available in full to local authorities and the public so they can make informed decisions on the validity of a development plan.

Rosie Walker, along with Samir JeraJ, have written a book, the Rent Trap, about renting in the private rented sector in London. One of the people interviewed for the book is a former tenancy relations officer with Lewisham council. He says there has been an explosion in letting agents in recent years. In Lewisham in the early 1990s,
Check here below

The national picture, as Generation Rent sees the situation, means that tenants in the private rented sector, with little regulation on rents or security of tenure will continue to be exploited because of a lack of supervision of landlords and agents, due to the dwindling enforcement resources of local (They recognise also that the Mayor currently lacks a number of powers, both to intervene in the private rented sector and to deal with current developments and existing housing stock.) They want to see a new strategic direction – an adjustment in Rowan Moore’s words – regards pumping more social housing into the city which would take the pressure off the private rented sector and dampen rent inflation.

THERE WILL BE a reform in the viability assessment system. Viability in planning is plainly failing to deliver the housing needed for the city. London can no longer be in a position where it does not know the housing mix it will get from new developments and where the decisions are not open to neighbourhoods and taxpayers. Measures must need to be taken to revise current viability assessments and to ultimately abolish the development viability system in the long-term.

Until that happens the details of viability assessments should be made available in full to local authorities and the public so they can make informed decisions on the validity of a development plan.

Rosie Walker, along with Samir JeraJ, have written a book, the Rent Trap, about renting in the private rented sector in London. One of the people interviewed for the book is a former tenancy relations officer with Lewisham council. He says there has been an explosion in letting agents in recent years. In Lewisham in the early 1990s, there were 30-40 in the whole of the borough. By 2015 there were well over 150. To him they are “unscrupulous chancers entering an unregulated market looking for a fast buck without the slightest bit of experience or knowledge”.

Without doubt, he says, the biggest game changer of the last 25 years in private renting in London has been the way large-scale, organised crime have infiltrated the sector. “There’s so much money to be made from property now – and it hasn’t escaped the attention of money launderers, drug dealer and people traffickers.”

Danny Dorling, writing in his book All that is Solid; the great housing disaster, is in no doubt who is has massively contributed to the growth of the private rented sector rented sector. By 2013, he writes, “it had become evident that what the UK government had planned was not an expansion of social housing construction. What it had wanted, and got, was a massive expansion of the private rented sector. This was achieved not through new building, but through private landlords buying homes that had recently been vacated. In many parts of the south-east of England private landlords now own the majority of houses on streets that until recently were home to families with mortgages. In autumn 2013 the Prime Minister countered criticism of this very recent treat, saying that he would ensure it became easer for ordinary families who were renting to take out massive 95 per cent mortgages, but he did not explain how they would ever be able to pay back the borrowed money.” The Labour government was just as culpable by giving buy-to-let owners tax breaks. (Nick Clegg has recently disclosed that George Osborne’s response to the former Liberal
Democrat leader’s mention of the shortage of social housing was they would be given to Labour voters.) Danny Dorling adds that the coalition presented state support for the private renting and buying as an alternative to building more social housing.

It is no surprise that Generation Rent wants fees to be banned for tenants but realises it is a matter for the government to intervene. The Scottish government in its Housing Act 2014 introduced mandatory national registration for all lettings agents operating in Scotland. Applicants are required to provide details of their organisation and evidence of fitness and propriety to operate as a letting agent. The register will be kept and maintained by the Scottish government.

The London Assembly should push the Mayor to launch a London-wide letting agency. It would be a not-for-profit agency thus ending charges for tenants and reducing them for landlords who participate in the scheme. If rolled out across London it could see the start of a fairer system in the capital and put the cowboys out of business. Also local authorities need to be better funded to tackle rogue landlords more heavily and be allowed to keep the fines they can levy on those landlords found guilty of fleecing tenants.

THERE WILL BE plans put in place for greater security of tenure for tenants in the private rented sector by putting an end to the assured shorthold tenancy which is now the number one cause of homelessness in the capital. Once again the Scottish government has acted to provide greater security of tenure. Any government that is serious about improving private renting has to improve security of tenure for tenants – something the Mayor should be pushing for powers to do so.

The insatiable demand for housing in London means that rents in the private sector have rocketed in recent years. There are various ways that rent control could work in practice and these should be explored in relation to the particular features of London housing.

Whoever is elected Mayor has to commit to establishing a new rent control system that will work in a modern London. (Also the government should rethink local housing allowance to local rent levels to ensure that low-income households can continue to rent in the capital.)

David Bentley, a researcher for the think-tank Civitas, is an unlikely advocate of rent controls. Interviewed for the book Rent Trap he says, “I know it may seem unusual for a pro-market think-tank to be calling for regulation, but the housing market is failing”, he says. The private rental market in the UK is ‘crowding out’ both social housing and owner-occupation, he says. “They tend to buy the stock we’re already got, and then rent it to people who can’t afford to buy that stock.” Bentley says that the Labour Party and campaign groups like Shelter fail to take a long-term view of private renting, and he thinks that the landlord lobby exerts a ‘worrying’ level of influence on UK housing policy. (The present chairman of the City of London’s Policy and Resources committee is a staunch opponent of rent control)

The solution, he says, is three-fold: first, we must ask how big we really want the private rented sector to be, and, at whose expense its growth should come.

Second, renters need rent controls and more secure tenancies. Third, we should encourage institutional investment in private, shifting the ownership from unaccountable private individuals to companies which are more accountable. Institutions, like pension funds, are less interested in rising house prices and would rather have long-term predictable income from stable rent, says Bentley.

Most of the opposition to rent controls is based on the view that in the twentieth century it led to a shrinking of the number of privately rented homes, but Bentley says, it was actually the rise of rise of social housing, and of building societies between the World Wars, that meant fewer people needed to rent privately. “There is a lot of myth about what rent controls did to this country” he says.

Though he is cautious about comparing the UK to Germany, Bentley sees the latter as a good example of a healthy, functioning private rental market. But, he notes, Germany does not have an overall shortage of housing because it has maintained a high rate of new building – unlike the UK. In exchange for government subsidies to build, private landlords signed up to rent controls and security of tenure. As a result there is little need in Germany for social housing – which Bentley thinks the UK should retain. “We’ve got a system which is geared less and less to what people want in housing, and subjecting it to the whim of people who have got the money to buy homes at inflated prices” he says.

One of the few pieces of research into how rent controls might work in a modern setting in the
UK was commissioned by Shelter and the London
Assembly’s Housing Committee. Stephen Knight, a
Liberal Democrat member of the London Assembly’s
Housing Committee, is critical of the stance taken by

Shelter from the research. He believes that they used the research to justify their choice not to advocate for rent controls. “The argument suggests that the only

‘things’ that are ‘viable’ are ‘things’ that will make no difference to affordability, then what on earth is the point? It’s a ‘rent control model’ that doesn’t frighten the landlords. Well, if it doesn’t frighten the landlords then it’s not worth the paper it’s written on. We need them to take their money somewhere else- somewhere it won’t have such a damaging effect.”

Knight believes that policy makers should be bolder in standing up to financial interests. “If anything that will make a difference to affordability ends up making it unattractive for investors to enter the housing market, well that ought to tell you something about the housing market”, he says. Despite the recent end to tax breaks for buy to let owners by the government landlord are unlikely to sell simultaneously and that fears of a sudden crash are unfounded.”The idea that we have a sort of nuclear button that would make the whole thing collapse wouldn’t collapse.” (Stephen Knight is stepping down as a member of the London Assembly.)

Such is the precarious state of private renting that there is a section in The Rent Trap titled Private Renting: a small step away from homelessness. In fact the ending of a private tenancy is now the most common of homelessness. Following a programme in 2014 by the BBC they found that the number of people becoming homeless in this way had trebled since 2009. In 2014, central government funding for homelessness was cut, the Homelessness Transition Fund, a three-year fund that helped charities and councils pay for their homelessness services also in 2014. In 2014, the Chartered Institute of

Housing called for the government to use the Autumn Statement to establish a £100 million fund to support vulnerable private rented tenants who were at risk of homelessness. When published, the 108- page document failed to mention homelessness.

I have no doubt that it is time to knock a few heads of homeless charities together. In an effort to get a former homeless person onto the list of candidates for the London Assembly I approached both Shelter and Crisis. Could they put me in contact with someone whom they had helped get back on their feet.
Neither of them responded to my request. (Thames

Reach did responded but the person lined-up to be a candidate failed to met the electoral requirements) Since 2011 local authorities are no longer obliged to house homeless people themselves, so it is time that homeless charities were given more responsibility, like other special interest groups, to provide not only advice but homes for homeless people?

Due to the high cost of renting in the capital the prospect of saving a deposit to buy a home is no longer an option for millions of Londoners. (The average deposit in 2015 for a mortgage was £71,078. This means a family in a privately rented home would take 94 years to save that amount.) Not surprisingly homeownership has been falling by around one per cent a year for the last decade. Fewer than half of the people living in London are now homeowners and that includes foreign buyers. Therefore as the Professor Richard Ronald writes in his book the Ideology of Homeownership, governments need to readdress the role of rental housing. This, he writes, would require a seismic ideological shift and a symbolic reconstitution of rental housing. “If housing policies can redeem rental ‘homes’ in homeowner societies, it will provide a real housing ‘choice’ and mitigate the imbalances generated by over-dependency and over-investment in owner-occupied housing. At the moment, a reversal in homeownership policy and the tide of neo-liberalization and welfare commodification seems implausible. The ideological force of owner-occupation is now overwhelming and it appears that neither residents nor policy makers are capable of thinking beyond its normative boundaries. If and when house-prices become unstable, political pressure will be such that governments will have to take drastic market regulatory steps due to levels of dependency on individual housing-property, which was, ironically, created by deregulation and promotion of the free market.”

Rowan Moore believes that the zeitgeist of the times must change if London is to keep its uniqueness which is essential to its survival both economically and socially. The problem is that London looks like a city where market forces are running riot and w here government bodies are enfeebled and reactive. In the past both popular action – riots – and public interventions, usually in response to a crisis, be it fire, pollution, disease, exploitation, overcrowding, has often brought about a reaction due to a bout of volatility in the free market. Ideological idiocy can also cause an eruption. The Poll Tax riots led to the government change tack over its implementation. Will it take riots over the government’s proposed extension of right to buy to housing associations before it drops its Housing Bill?

London’s durability, Moore writes, depended upon “its flexibility which used to mean that neighbourhoods could change in different ways, now they are heading in one direction: towards ever-higher prices and exclusively. London is suffering a crisis of generosity and availability. Once a place where anyone could find a niche, whose central areas could be shared by many, the latter are becoming zones that most of its citizens visit as gawpers, spectators and tourists in their own city. There is a loss of individuals’ sense of belonging, of their access to the gifts of knowledge and pleasure that a city offers, to its freedoms, and to decent homes and streets.”

For Rowan Moore the failure to see the capital’s future other than one based on financial speculation, particularly in property, is a betrayal of London. As the title of his book believes, a city is at its best when, as he puts it, “burns slowly”, it changes, as cities must, but it also when it replaces and renews. This happens through the creative interplay of private trade and public action, an interplay that is currently breaking down. London is consuming itself. The elections to the London Assembly are an opportunity to throw the moneychangers from one of their temples of power – City Hall – which ironically is situated on the site of demolished council housing.

Terry McGrenera, the House Party,
Homes for Londoners.

• Vote for the House Party on the Orange ballot paper.

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