Tag: Housing

Since it came to power, this government has delighted in cutting great big holes in our welfare safety net. Conservative, Liberal and Labour politicians have jostled to “get tough” on welfare, buying into the idea that most benefit claimants are either cheating the system or sitting on their bums not looking for work, or possibly both. So they have cut and capped the amount of housing that tenants can claim to cover their rents. But these cuts have taken their toll, making it increasingly difficult to find somewhere you can afford. So more and more people have had to move somewhere cheaper. First, this hit central London, and then inner London, and in the past couple of years it has started to hit my constituency of Lewisham West & Penge. This chart shows the relative change in the number of private tenants claiming housing benefit since January 2011. Westminister started…

Read More Exporting Lewisham and Penge’s poor

The Chancellor has announced a cut in stamp duty for most people in yesterday’s autumn statement, claiming it will help first-time buyers. Labour’s shadow chancellor quickly supported him, adding that it will “help people on middle and low incomes who are moving homes”. Given the extremely high prices in London, you sounds like great news! But it could actually make things worse. Let me explain with an example from Anerley. Imagine you were a rich enough first-time buyer to go for the average two bed flat in SE20, which according to Nestoria costs £329,000! You’ll now have to pay just over £3,000 less in stamp duty to buy it, which will be welcome news. But this means you, and every other buyer, now has £3,000 more to bid on the price for the home. The Government’s own economists – the Office for Budget Responsibility – say this will push up house prices. Using Shelter’s…

Read More How to push up house prices in London

Campaign groups like Generation Rent have been doing a great job of pushing renters up the political agenda. They’re in the Independent today with a story showing that renters will outnumber homeowners in 107 Parliamentary constituencies by 2021. But political parties will take figures like those with a pinch of salt. Private renters, in particular, are filtered out of the democratic process and so have much less clout than their sheer numbers might suggest. The first filter is that almost half of private renters aren’t even registered to vote. According to the 2012-2013 English Housing Survey, only 56% of private renting households are registered, compared to 78% of social renters and 87% of homeowners. This obviously means that political parties will be less interested in chasing their votes. The second filter is that they won’t then be canvassed on the doorstep. Parties will use the electoral register for this, because it makes…

Read More How private renters are filtered out of democracy

I’m a firm believer in “densification” – that we can make our towns and cities more dense. This can help us to avoid building on other species’ habitats, and to support more sustainable transport habits like public transport and cycling. I’ve written two blog posts looking at the scope for densifying outer London. But yesterday, Eric Pickles re-announced his own densification programme, and I’m dead-set against it. The Communities Secretary wants to give Boris Johnson £150m to accelerate the demolition of council estates in London, building more dense housing on the land. The official statement describes the estates as “London’s most deprived”; the Evening Standard helpfully spelled out what they meant by that, describing “run down” and “notorious” areas. It’s one of those easy stereotypes to trot out that actually have very little basis in fact – UKIP supporters are wealthy Tories, housing benefit claimants are unemployed scroungers, and council…

Read More Densifying London the wrong way

Following yesterday’s post on making London more dense, Tim Lund suggested I do a slightly more sophisticated analysis. Planners in London use a metric called the Public Transport Accessibility Level, or ‘PTAL’, which does pretty much what you’d expect. Rules for things like car parking levels and the density of housing you should build are based on these, because obviously if you’re in central London you have no need for a car and you can justify quite tall blocks of flats, but in low rise suburbia with only sporadic bus services it’s accepted that more car parking and less dense housing is appropriate. So if you were to follow these rules, how much more housing could you build in London? First, I took the data for PTAL levels (the map on the left). Then I took my wards, sliced up to remove any areas that cannot be built on, cut…

Read More Densifying London (part two)

How do we build more homes in London? The Mayor’s latest exercise assessing needs suggests we need up to 690,000 over the next ten years, but a parallel exercise looking for land only came up with sites for 420,000 homes. The usual debate is whether or not we build in London’s greenbelt to make up the difference. But there are at least three good reasons not to go down this route to solve our problems: there are an awful lot of protected habitats that we really cannot build on; building sustainable developments around transport hubs and avoiding those habitats could only deliver (in Andrew Lainton’s estimation) 72,000 homes; and if we ignore these,  it could lead to more low density, car-dependent urban sprawl, which the greenbelt was established to prevent. The alternative, or perhaps complementary, approach is to make London more dense, particularly around transport hubs in sprawling, low density…

Read More Making parts of London more dense

Green Party leader Natalie Bennett recently took a strong stance on migration, warning of the dangers that the other parties risk when stoking up public anger about population. She rightly suggested that we shouldn’t blame migrants for problems with the NHS, schools, housing and jobs. Instead, we should be concerned about the failure of misguided economic policies that have caused these problems. In response, three members of the Green Party wrote a letter to the Guardian saying that they, and many other Greens, are concerned about migration as well as the nasty rhetoric. The authors of the letter wrote: Many of her party’s supporters are as concerned as the rest of the public about a high level of net immigration, mainly because it is a major contributor to population growth. This adds to the uphill task of protecting our environment and moving the economy to an ecologically sustainable one. A…

Read More On migration, population and ecology

A couple of years ago I included a chart of house building in a blog post arguing that young people shouldn’t necessarily support the removal of planning controls. The chart covered the period from 1955 to 2010, and showed that: The only time  that the UK has seen house building match demand, and kept housing affordable, was when councils built in huge volumes from the 1950s to 1970s. If you think price bubbles are all about supply, explain the continued volatility of house prices through the 1950s, 60s and 70s. People who want to see a massive expansion in house building can have their spirits dampened in other ways. Christopher Buckle from Savills wrote an interesting blog post suggesting that, on that house building data from the 1950s to the present day, a major boom looks very unlikely. He wrote: If private sector housing delivery grew by 7.5% every year until…

Read More Who built all that housing in England?

Darren Johnson has issued a report arguing that building new homes can’t solve London’s housing crisis alone. He suggests the Mayor should consider other solutions including smart regulations for the private rented sector, taxing land values and setting up land auctions. But there are two policies you won’t see in his list. Two policies that Greens often bring up in discussions about housing. I wanted to take some time this evening to explain why I think we should talk about them a little less, and in a very different light. Before I launch in, I would heartily recommend this blog entry by Liz Emerson as an overview of the sources of our housing crisis, to give an idea of why we need to act. The Green Party’s policy platform is chock-full of good ideas to rectify this, but when it comes to building new homes I think Greens sometimes find themselves on…

Read More Two false hopes that won’t solve London’s housing crisis

Jim Gleeson has an interesting blog entry about the consequences of making a city more liveable. In short, there is a danger that making an area more liveable can price out lower income people. By reducing air pollution and generally improving the local environment in more deprived areas,  richer people will start to move in displacing the people who should have benefitted. His prescription is more housing supply to accompany environmental improvements. But we need to think a bit more carefully about this to get the medicine right for places like London. As he points out, the economic benefits of making an area more desirable will largely go to existing home owners and landlords as the value of the land, and therefore the rent they can charge, increases. Lower income people will be forced to move, presumably (according to Jim’s argument) to less liveable areas. Council and housing association tenants…

Read More Green doesn’t need to mean gentrification