THE BLOG

It's Time to End This Walrus and Carpenter Approach to London's Housing

03/09/2014 11:36 BST | Updated 02/11/2014 10:59 GMT

Opening the London papers on the commute home, the almost daily stories about the housing crisis facing London make for ever more gloomy reading. Housing is becoming too expensive for all but the richest Londoners with tenants in the private sector spending 59 per cent of their wages on rent. For many the thought of owning a home is just a pipe dream. Despite all the complexity of an effective housing policy, the problem comes down to the simple fact that we are just not building enough affordable homes.

Under Boris Johnson, the problem has been getting worse. The current Mayor has failed to meet his own pledge to deliver 42,000 new homes a year - just 16,800 were completed last year. Things are not getting better either. It has now emerged that the Mayor has failed to allocate the money he has been given by the government for affordable housing. Only £400m was allocated to housing providers for new homes out of his £1.25bn budget.

The official definition of 'affordable rent' as 80% of the market is also mind-boggling in London. This is not affordable by any stretch of the imagination. In boroughs like Islington and Camden, the rent for a two bedroom flat is in the order of £450 per week. That's over £23,000 a year in rent. London cannot go on like this.

This is not the kind of leadership our great city needs at a time of crisis. Unless drastic action is taken, house prices will continue to rise, pricing yet more Londoners out of the market. The capital's housing policy is broken and we need a Mayor who can fix it; a Mayor who understands the needs of Londoners; a Mayor who will make London more livable.

There is no single solution but there are some things I would do differently. Housing Associations will play a key p[art in delivering affordable homes and we need a mayor who can work constructively with these organisations, not one who tries to blame them for his own failure to deliver on housing. We need to make it easier for councils to use public land to build new houses. One good area would be the large amount of land held by the NHS, which the current Government has been actively trying to sell off as fast as possible. I would ensure that councils have the first chance at developing houses on this publicly held land.

Over the past decades there has been what I call a 'Walrus and Carpenter' approach to social housing. In Through the Looking Glass (the sequel to Alice in Wonderland) the Walrus and the Carpenter come across a bed of oysters and convince the unsuspecting molluscs to join them on their walk. Alas! they eat all the oysters between the two of them, albeit with very different approaches: the Walrus eats more than his fair share while feigning sympathy through sobs and tears; the Carpenter silently eats whatever he can get his hands on.

This has been the approach to social housing in London. For decades boroughs have acted as either Walruses or Carpenters when it comes to housing. The Walruses have mourned and decried the loss of social housing in public, while continuing to sell off housing stock; the Carpenters, on the other hand, have silently sold off whatever they can get their hands on.

Social housing is an essential part of housing infrastructure in any modern city. As Mayor, I will ensure that councils are able to replenish their housing stocks by fighting to ease the borrowing restrictions councils face, allowing them to raise more money to build social and genuinely affordable housing.

Christian Wolmar is a leading transport journalist and is seeking the Labour Party nomination to be Mayor of London.