They’re a speedy lot over at ‘London’s Quality Paper’, aren’t they? Eighteen days ago, the Animal wrote about how Boris Johnson’s affordable housing targets were heavily skewed towards allowing most of the Conservative-run London boroughs to continue with their abysmal record of constructing affordable housing. And I can’t claim to be first – Inside Housing and Dave Hill both got there before me. The notifications of the targets were sent out to the boroughs’ Chief Executives the week before I wrote the post. So what’s this I see whilst idly scanning the Evening Standard’s website today?
Yup, nearly three weeks on, the Standard gets the story. I doubt if the blame for this tardiness can be placed at the door of Pippa Crerar, the paper’s generally even-handed City Hall editor, whose by-line today’s article is under. It probably isn’t really her job to scan the trade press for housing stories. But surely there’s someone at Fortress Rotherhithe who has close enough ties with a borough council to wrangle an early look at the targets? Seemingly not.
Anyway, with the Mayor launching his draft housing strategy yesterday, what have we learnt?
1) Are you pretty well off? Boris’ll build you a house.
“…the new First Steps housing programme will ensure that Londoners earning at the basic rate of income tax, up to a household income limit of £72,000 a year, are eligible for discounted and low cost homes.” (p.10)
£72,000 per year! Excuse the italics, they tend to appear when the Animal sees red. The Animal’s household income is barely half that, and I certainly don’t think I should be in line for any kind of discount on a house. Maybe if there are a significant number of offspring to support, there could just about be a case for a household with that sort of income level receiving some support to purchase a suitably large home, but Johnson appears to be suggesting no such needs-based stipulation. So the really good news is that, with the Mayor likely to struggle to reach his 50,000 target for affordable homes in the current economic climate, a good proportion of the affordable homes that do get built in the next three years will be handed out to middle-income families at discounted rates, rather than going to those at real risk of homelessness. Never mind that 50,000 is probably well short of London’s real needs (the GLA’s 2004 estimates estimated that 20,000 new affordable homes were needed per year – so 60,000 over three years) and that demand for social housing is likely to increase alongside rising repossessions. Apparently, that’s called strategic thinking.
2. The Tory obsession with a property-owning democracy is alive and well
Johnson has replaced that with an aspirational target that will see 40% of the new homes made available for social housing – 5,000 fewer than previously planned. (The Guardian)
If someone can point me to an historical example of a worse-timed policy shift, I’d be most grateful. So, property prices are in free-fall, people are concerned about their jobs so are unlikely to want to splash out much of their capital and the banks won’t lend anyone much a mortgage. How to respond? I know, let’s shift the balance of new affordable housing away from social renting towards homes for purchase. Er…why? Presumably because the Mayor’s dogma tells him to. Oh, and he remembers canvassing some council estates in the 1980s where everyone who’d purchased their house voted Tory and the rest were all bloody socialists. Again, it’s called strategic thinking.
3. Are you a key worker? Go away.
“Existing low cost home ownership products have too often operated in a way that cherry picks the groups that will be helped – usually ‘key workers’ in certain parts of the public sector.” [p.27]
Do you have the misfortune to be a nurse, teacher or a police or fire officer in Johnson’s London? Remember that you were attracted to a job in the capital in part by the promise of a key worker home that recognised that your salary didn’t reflect the essential role you played in London’s economy? Sorry, we decided to sell it at a knock-down price to a couple earning £70,000 per year. But we value you. Really. And we wouldn’t want to drive such workers out of London – that wouldn’t be strategic thinking.
4. Boris doesn’t like hobbit holes.
“We’re not Hobbits. I am not about building homes for Hobbits” (Johnson, quoted in The Times)
But I’ve seen the film – those hobbit holes look really rather nice, albeit with very low ceilings. Or in the Tolkien quote that the Times helpfully points out: “It was a Hobbit hole, and that means comfort.” Best stick to the Classics, eh Boris?
5. The ego has landed.
Number of pictures of Ken Livingstone in the Draft Mayor’s Housing Strategy (2007): 1
Number of pictures of Boris Johnson in the Draft London Housing Strategy (2008): 13
I didn’t want to end this post without sharing with you the following gem of a comment on the Standard’s article about Tory boroughs getting off lightly in terms of affordable housing targets:
Well the electorate in the Labour boroughs could vote Conservative and then the responsibility would fall on Conservative Councils. Next point please?
– Joe, London, UK
I do hope this is going to be the first in a long series of comments in which ‘Joe’ will solve the world’s problems through his refreshing clear-thinking. Vote Conservative? Why on earth didn’t the people in the Labour boroughs think of that before? Next week, from ‘Joe’ (the Plumber?): why don’t the Georgians just elect Vladimir Putin as their President. Honestly, it’d be that simple.