Zac sets out his stall for renters

Apr 06, 2016 4:29 PM

The Conservative candidate for London Mayor, Zac Goldsmith, has published his housing manifesto, and we've updated the Vote Homes policy grid with his offer for London's renters.

As the candidate of the governing party in Westminster, it was always going to be interesting to see if he would go any further than current government policy. One of the biggest divides between the Conservatives and the other parties is on security of tenure, and it's safe to say that Zac has stuck his neck out on this, though we're yet to be convinced that renters will benefit from his proposal.

In contrast to Sadiq Khan, Zac has rejected a target for building affordable housing (Sadiq's is 50%), and sees a requirement on developers to be transparent around their so-called viability assessments as the way to prevent underprovision of low-cost housing. Sadiq's argument is that an unflinching target would deter developers from overpaying for land in the first place. We believe at the very least there should be conditions for affordable housing on using public land.

Zac will also require local councils to make plans to provide "intermediate" housing, but this is pretty meaningless without further definition. Right now intermediate rent is charged at 80% of market rents. But when London's market rent is 60% of the average salary, 48% is still not affordable by any stretch of the imagination. Zac has previously said that rents in central London should be no higher than a third of incomes - close to our proposal - but there is no mention of this in his manifesto.

Zac is matching Sadiq's plan to offer new homes to Londoners, but with a wider eligibility (three years of living or working in London to Sadiq's five years of renting in London). Both appear to be limiting it to brownfield public land, though Zac refers to TfL land. Zac makes no mention of shared ownership - a favourite of Sadiq's - but does promise a Mayor Mortgage to help first time buyers get in on the off-plan sales that have largely been used by investors. Unfortunately this is treating the symptom rather than the cause of high prices.

On new homes for private renters, Zac will encourage councils to build them on public land, with a "range of different discounts". We'd still like to see conditions on private developers to ensure homes for rent are stable and secure (until wider reforms are made).

To help pay for new affordable housing, Zac will pool local authorities' finance to help them commission more homes. This flexibility might put a few more houses up, but there is no new money involved.

Zac will only permit regeneration to go ahead with resident support, which is laudable and has not happened enough. The problem with holding a vote of residents is that private tenants' voices could be drowned out by those of leaseholders and social tenants who are rehoused. Private renters need their own protections if they face losing their homes from regeneration. Where development is taking place on public land, Zac will require a "London share" - i.e. for low-cost homes - which is welcome, but must be ambitious.

On security, Zac wants to see long term tenancies offered as part of a mandatory London Rental Standard. This is good news and for the first time we have some consensus on the need for a mandatory system of longer tenancies. He will, of course, need to lobby the Government for this power. But the proposal would still leave tenants open to exploitation - the landlord will be able to set the terms of rent rises at the start of the tenancy, rather than be restricted to inflation, for example, and the landlord could still evict if they wanted to sell or move in. Tenants need to have protections in this situation. 

While it's not in the manifesto, Zac has rejected the idea of rent controls, and is even trying to persuade people that Sadiq is offering this as part of his London Living Rent (which would only apply to a portion of new homes). 

On regulation of landlords, Zac hasn't explicitly said he'd license them, but a beefed-up LRS would certainly offer this capacity. He will advertise tenants' new rights under the Housing Bill, the flimsiness of which exposes just how limited his policy on this area is. 

On letting agents, Zac's big idea is to champion the development of new technology to erode their position of power in the market. And rather than calling for a ban on fees, he will "ensure all fees are charged upfront and, for specific services like credit checks, are cost reflective." This is a shame as he has previously talked tough(ish), saying letting agent fees are "almost like a scam". We do hope he will support our project, though. 

Finally, he has said nothing on a tenants' union, or giving tenants a voice in City Hall.

This week two more manifestos have come out and we'll deliver our verdict soon.