SpareRoom attended the Future of London Housing debate hosted by the Evening Standard on Wednesday 20th March, in a packed room of over 1000 attendees. Housing is clearly a subject that is close to the hearts of many Londoners and the debate and following Q&A session became quite heated – showing the passion and emotion involved.
All of the panellists, including thinkers and politicians from all sides of the political spectrum, agreed that more housing supply was needed to relieve the housing crisis enveloping London. Deputy Mayor for Housing, Richard Blakeway called for London’s share of stamp duty to be ploughed back into a massive house-building programme. Whilst the MD of Berkeley Housing proposed a simplified planning process, the former London Mayor, Ken Livingstone’s call was to provide council housing for mixed communities, so there is less segregation between rich and poor in London. Alain de Botton, philosopher and writer, suggested a blueprint for attractive, affordable design that could be repeated easily and efficiently across London, removing some of the hurdles in the planning process, whilst the broadcaster and architectural graduate Janet Street Porter called for high density building, across railway lines and over car parks, like in New York. Possibly the biggest applause of the evening went to Evening Standard columnist Rosamund Urwin’s suggestions of disbanding Foxtons, banning Kirsty Alsopp and deporting the Candy Brothers. Standing up for ‘renty-somethings’ she focused on her own case of being shut out of home ownership, and renting with family members.
Whilst many of their suggestions were valid and probably will help to resolve the housing crisis in a few years to come, if more intensive building programmes do get underway (we’ve only built half the number of homes we need for the last 20 years and have a lot of catching up to do), there was a distinct lack of focus on the here and now. With so many thousands of people on housing lists in London, and the capital attracting workers and students like never before, there is an imperative need to offer practical solutions to today’s housing crisis, before London becomes a place that no real people can afford to live and work in.
Sharing existing resources seems to be the elephant in the room that nobody would mention. Amongst the talk of pressing empty properties and even offices into homes for the needy, there is no mention of the thousands of under-occupied properties that can help to ease the crisis. This is already happening – as teenage children grow up and move away, ‘empty nesters’ are starting to rent out their spare rooms in their thousands – but we need to see more of this, to make an impact. What could the policy makers do to help encourage this trend?
We would suggest a raise in the tax free limit homeowners can earn through the Rent a Room scheme for starters – it’s been at the same rate since its introduction in 1997, whilst rents have been rising dramatically. Why not make it more attractive for people with spare rooms to take in a lodger, and help to remove the pressure on the limited supply in the private rented sector, and the social rented sector too? We’ve been pushing for this with our Raise the Roof campaign for some time, and hope that the Chancellor may see fit to increase the tax benefit in his next budget, even if it wasn’t included in last week’s.
Other ways to increase supply include removing some of the hurdles involved in turning a property into an HMO. This will promote more efficient use of existing property, and help young people to find somewhere affordable to live in the here and now, rather than being told to wait for houses yet to be built.
Do you agree? What do you think could be done to help solve the housing crisis sooner, rather than later?