Boris Johnson’s broken promises to tackle the housing crisis

By Darren Johnson AM

Boris Johnson first ran for mayor in 2008 on a promise to "help more Londoners afford their own home." He attacked the then mayor, Ken Livingstone, for inflation-busting house price and rent rises across London.

However, since becoming mayor, his own record has been no better.

Here’s what Boris wrote in 2008:

"House prices in London have accelerated faster than wages over the last eight years, and many Londoners now cannot afford to buy a home in their own city. Those lucky enough to own their home have to work longer hours to meet ever-rising mortgage costs, and those still searching have to take on mountains of debt in order to get on the ladder."

But since 2008, figures from the Office for National Statistics show that wages have risen just four per cent and house prices have risen by a staggering 76%.

Boris also promised to aid the plight of private renters:

"The cost of renting in London has increased dramatically," he warned at the time.

"The average monthly rent in London is estimated at £843, increasing by 33% since 2000."

But ONS figures show an even greater escalation since Boris was elected in 2008. Average rents in London are now at £1,400, which is 66% higher than when Boris became mayor.

You can watch me challenging the mayor about this dismal record in our last ever Mayor’s Question Time earlier this week.

In his 2008 manifesto, Boris also wrote that "we must embrace fresh ideas and break with the tired approach of the past." I completely agree. But in the past eight years he has followed the same failed strategy that Ken Livingstone and the previous government promoted, namely hoping private developers will build our way out of the crisis, and hoping some genuinely affordable housing will fall like crumbs from the table for poorer Londoners.

We need to recognise that our housing market is broken. It is never going to deliver the homes we need, nor the reductions in prices through tweaks to planning policy. The next mayor needs fresh ideas to address three fundamental issues.

First, they must reduce all the demand from investors and speculators, who do more to drive up prices than to get new homes built. The mayor should have powers to change or scrap subsidies and other advantages given to buy-to-let landlords, and to clamp down on the use of offshore companies to avoid tax.

Second, they should get more smaller builders and community led initiatives into the market, which is dominated by a small number of big developers. I set out ways in which this could unlock tens of thousands of homes in a report last year.

And third, they must stop the council estate demolitions. A committee investigation I led revealed that they’ve created a net loss of over 8,000 social rented homes in the past decade, with more on the way. In a world in which there is ample funding for social housing, and genuine cooperation between the council and their residents, estate regeneration can be a good thing. But the next Mayor doesn’t live in that rosy world, and so needs to take a stand and stop councils forcing demolition on their residents.

As Boris recognised in 2008, but quickly forgot, without fresh thinking the next mayor will leave office with an even deeper housing crisis.

Darren Johnson is a Green Party London Assembly member. Follow him on Twitter here.

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