We live in a society where property has become one of the last few investments available to the general public; most other investments are dominated by institutions. But the Englishman's home is more than his castle, it's where many of us store our money in place of a pension. It's funny to think of a house as an investment because from the moment they're built they start to deteriorate, and from the moment you move in they require a lot of money to keep warm and in good state of repair. What you're buying when you buy a property is its right to exist in its location; its access to social infrastructure, shops and schools. A good school adds an estimated £75,000 to the price of a property in London. It's not the house you're buying, it's that school. It's why our grandmothers always remind us when we scour RightMove: location, location, location.
Living Within Needs - Downsizing For The Community
It's therefore unsurprising that, as we get older, our finest moment is that moment when we pay off our mortgages and that living in a larger house is associated with status. In London however, we need to start a conversation with older people that persuades them of the benefits not just to them, but to their community, of downsizing. Old people need to think small to think big. The benefits to society generally would be significant: a minimum estimate of 100,000 homes could be made available to young families in London if just some of the existing 60% of pensioners who want to downsize, could be helped to do so. It also reduces demand on public sector resources as, with more suitable accommodation and appropriate care, old people need to spend fewer nights in hospital.
Moreover, as older people discover a new freedom of 'lock up and go' living so they can travel and really enjoy their retirement. They have the security of returning to a secure, manageable, well-insulated house, smack in the centre of the communities in which they've spent their lives - keeping them younger for longer. The benefits are immeasurable.
We Cannot Meet a Demand Problem by Increasing Demand, We Need to Increase Supply
The Intergenerational Foundation have been an inspiration to me, not just about how we talk to older people about their actual needs and how they can play their part helping with the housing crisis, but also raising the directly related question of what to do for young people and how one sector helps the other. On Tuesday, I met with two of IF's representatives. They impressed on me the difficulty that many young people have across London, and asked me what I planned to do for the next generation if elected Mayor next year. Many expect questions such as this to catch Conservatives out - 'but you're the party of the buy-to-let landlord, the exploitative corporation and the comfortable pensioner, aren't you?'.
This perception, as with so many others, is simply wrong. Well, for me anyway. And in any event the answer to most of London's housing problems isn't Marxist taxes and rent caps - it's just to "build more f*@king houses" to quote Jonn Elledge, editor of CityMetric.
And that's what I'd do: My plan to get rid of the legal gridlock caused by the current requirement on developers to provide often expensive social housing units in planning agreements (known as Section 106) and replacing it with a simple levy, will, rather than pander to vested political interests, in fact free-up councils to provide more social and affordable housing in the right places, increasing supply and lowering rents for young people. Likewise, making it much easier to make upward extensions on properties will also increase housing supply and support the dynamic densified city that is essential to the knowledge economy of the future.
The next component is what I started this blog with - we don't just need to increase supply, but also make individual choices that benefit our community. Hence downsizing. So what can a Mayor of London do to help old people downsize? What we actually going to do to harness those bleating voices of anarchy to bring about change. It's simple. I will get stamp duty exempted for over 65s downsizing their home. I will make my case to the treasury based on the need for more families to own home near their work and where they have grown up. The financial benefit to the state of a more independent older generation and the economic argument for the massive 'chirn' of stamp duty producing sales this initiative will initiate. In the short term, I will set up a downsizing taskforce to help people who want to do this, in the long term I will show how this plan is impacting communities for the better, and how intergenerational dialogue can build a better city for everyone.
There are an estimated 30 square kilometres of brownfield development sites available in London. In March the Government announced a London Land Commission - charged with creating a 'Domesday Book' of potential brownfield land that can be used for development. London First, in conjunction with Berwin Leighton Paisner, produced the report 'From Wasted Space to Living Place' (PDF), estimating over 100,000 houses could be built on land owned by the Greater London Authority (GLA) group (including Transport for London) alone. The figure for all London land in terms of potential houses would be far higher. It's not just future potential, but immediate potential - there are also 125,000 cubic meters of residential units with planning permission that remain uncompleted. We don't need to make London wider, we don't need to build on the greenbelt. Keeping developments more central keeps all the economic benefits and all the new facilities in London. This means that people can live centrally and near their work, dramatically cutting emissions and transport needs. It's a win win win.
The Environment In Which We Live - And The One We Will Pass On
Although housing may be young Londoners' principal concern, we can do plenty more to help in other areas, too. One way that we can help is by protecting the environment. For instance, we have a major pollution problem that is only going to get worse with the population expected to rise by 14% in the next decade. As it stands, pollution kills 4,000 people each year, and costs us £4bn. This problem is not simply going to vanish - we owe it to young Londoners to make sure that they work in a green, attractive and healthy city.
We can fulfil this responsibility by implementing some of the policies that I've talked about in previous blogs: expanding electric car infrastructure, creating hydrogen-powered buses and encouraging carpooling. Crucially, we must implement the Ultra Low Emissions Zone by 2020; another of Boris' bold and progressive ideas.
These plans, alongside my plans to maximise brownfield land, to optimise our city means we take our first step in tackling the housing crisis - but without leaving a city with no green space, or a city that has houses but is too toxic to inhabit. Using an entrepreneurial approach to housing - optimising the resources we have, defending the environment we live in, preserving the great community spirit of London and asking Londoners to think about this city as a partnership between us all, is the only way we grow this great city and pass it on to our children in a better state than we received it.