Finally, Zac and Sadiq go head-to-head on housing

After months of debate and campaigning, the London Mayoral election is imminent. Despite housing being the absolute number one issue of the election, the two frontrunners have not managed to face each other to debate it.

There have been general hustings between Sadiq Khan and Zac Goldsmith, including the Evening Standard and Centre for London debate on 21 April, where, amid heated exchanges on policing, transport and extremism, the only real look-in that housing had simply highlighted the similarities between the candidates: building ambitions, first dibs for Londoners, and refusal to build on the green belt (despite Zac's desire to paint Sadiq as a park concreter).

Those debates focused on housing have only attracted stand-ins, including our Renters’ Hustings (where the Greens’ Sian Berry was the only mayoral candidate among five, with Joy Morrissey and Tom Copley the Conservative and Labour representatives), and even the social housing industry couldn’t attract them to the National Housing Federation Hustings on Monday night.

That is, until Thursday night. London Citizens is a network of faith groups, schools and community organisations that managed to fill the Olympic Copper Box with 6000 people. It’s hard to say no to that many Londoners. They are behind the first community land trust project in Mile End which is building genuinely and permanently affordable homes for locals, so we like them. They invited the candidates to an Assembly – less of a debate to be fair, and more of a public negotiation.

Zac and Sadiq were presented with stories of ordinary Londoners’ experiences of education, immigration, and the headliner, housing. The candidates (and the rest of the arena) heard from born-and-bred Londoners who are being shunned by their own city because of the cost of housing. And then they were asked to adopt a number of policies:

  • A good development standard which set a minimum of 50% affordable housing in new developments and a right of return for displaced residents (including private renters, we trust). Sadiq had already committed to most of these, while Zac declined to adopt a target, though he promised to prioritise locals over investors, and open up the planning process.
  • Deliver 1000 community land trust homes over four years. Not a huge number but we hope that this will help prove the concept for much greater use of the model in future. Both Caroline Pidgeon (Lib Dem) and Sian Berry have supported this and we were very pleased to hear the Labour and Tory candidates not only back it, but say we should be more ambitious.
  • London Living Rent set at a third of average incomes. This has been a promise of Sadiq’s for a long time so obviously he said yes, but Zac has made comments in the past that suggested that he might be sympathetic too. But he declined to adopt this definition, or even commit to build just 10,000 homes at this rent level.
  • Finally, Citizens asked for a “Rogue Landlord Taskforce” which would lead enforcement of the law to protect tenants from the sort of conditions #ventyourrent has highlighted this week. Both candidates agreed to this, with Zac saying his would “give tenants a representative to fight on their behalf”.

Whoever is elected next Thursday, London will have a Mayor who has committed to build more houses, tackle poor conditions and strive to give tenants greater security. That is thanks to a growing coalition of campaigners including Renters’ Rights London, PricedOut, London Citizens, Shelter – and you. Our next job is to hold the new Mayor to their promises.

But first, vote.

A full comparison of six candidates is available on Vote Homes 2016.

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