Two of London’s elder statesmen have warned that the capital is becoming “unaffordable” to people on ordinary incomes and say the next Government must commission the building of thousands of new homes to tackle its growing “housing crisis”.
Speaking at a Centre for London debate, former Mayor Ken Livingstone and Steve Norris, a former government minister and Conservative mayoral candidate in 2000 and 2004, said housing is now the number one concern raised when they meet voters.
With the capital’s population growing by the equivalent of a new London borough every few years, both men said it was vital that the next Government build more public housing.
As well as providing places to live, Mr Livingstone predicted a Government-backed house building drive would help boost employment levels, saying: “no other form of public expenditure creates more jobs than house building”.
He said that the lack of affordable homes meant “90%” of Housing Benefit was going to private landlords who are “making a fortune” by charging higher rents than councils or housing associations.
Livingstone also said he had no problem with tenants having the right to buy their homes provided they had to offer them back to the council when wanting to sell in order to ensure the continued supply of affordable properties.
Mr Norris told the audience that London was now “an unaffordable city” for both newcomers and long-term residents and described house building as “a perfectly legitimate form of infrastructure investment”.
He added: “It has the virtue of an immediate yield, and that yield is two-fold, it’s not only that people pay rent to occupy these houses, but in the process you’ll find the benefits bill reduced quite substantially.”
The former transport minister also backed council tax reform as a way of ensuring everyone pays their fair share, saying: “In the top band of council tax, because I live in Wandsworth, I pay under £1,000 a year and if my house was worth £20m I’d still pay £1,000. I mean that’s just lunatic.”
“What’s quite interesting to me is that the Mansion Tax will in the end be effectively an amendment to council tax and not before time.”