This week will mark 50 days since Sadiq Khan was elected Mayor of London in an election that was defined by the capital’s housing crisis. Yet since that point private renters (and indeed all Londoners hit by its failed housing system) have had to wait patiently to hear the detail within the Mayor’s commitments.
These pledges included a new London living rent for private tenants on new developments, a London-wide lettings agency run without the rip-off fees, and support for local authorities wanting to roll out landlord licensing. The manifesto also excitingly called for devolution on powers to improve security for private renters and to control their rents.
The new London housing market won’t be built in a day, and at his second Mayoral question time Sadiq Khan continued to be evasive on the specifics, stating that details were being worked out with his team.
Of main interest to Generation Rent were his answers to Tom Copley AM’s question about what powers on the private rented sector he would be asking the government to devolve to his office.
Mr Khan admitted his powers were currently very limited and that he was negotiating with government to extend them – in the first instance to allow the Mayor’s office to have approvals over borough-wide PRS licensing schemes.
This would be a good step and would allow councils and the Mayor to work more closely in improving conditions in the private rented sector, including the potential for energy efficiency improvements to tackle fuel poverty, an issue Mr Khan raised when discussing his plans for his Energy for Londoners body.
However, the Mayor was more demure when pressed on whether he would be demanding greater powers over security of tenure and rent caps, citing the need to keep his cards close to his chest while in negotiations with government. He is 'ambitious but realistic'.
This is understandable, but would be more acceptable to London’s private renters if they felt like these negotiations were really pushing for these policies which, at this point, are the clearest way to ensure tenants don’t continue to be financially squeezed or forced to move at short notice.
At this stage we just don’t know what is being asked for, and that is frustrating to those of us who want to see this Mayoralty defined by a sea change in how housing is built and managed in London, including the two million renters in the city and those on the lowest incomes.
Generation Rent welcomes a new London Living Rent pegged to a third of average incomes, but even if London starts to meet its minimum need by building 50,000 homes annually, you would only expect perhaps 10,000 of those to be of that tenure, and that would be an extreme success story from where we are now.*
The Mayor needs powers over security of tenure and rent levels for all PRS properties, and should be arguing for a system that reduces rents in actual terms, rather than simply stabilising them, alongside statutorily longer tenancies where renters are compensated if a landlord decides to sell.
One final point: throughout the entirety of the session, the voices and participation of tenants themselves were barely mentioned.
Generation Rent will be building on its work during the elections to push for stronger policy change throughout London in the coming years, but will also be calling for mechanisms to ensure that renters from all backgrounds are organised and get a voice at City Hall. Let’s hope the new Mayor is ready to hear them.
*Based on an ultimate target of 50% of new homes classed as affordable, and London Living Rent being only one of a number of affordable ‘products’.