By Lutfur Rahman (Mayor of Tower Hamlets) and Rabina Khan (Cabinet Member for Housing)
An article in a local paper last week reported an up-to 596% rise in house prices. London prices are becoming a citywide joke, up to this BuzzFeed piece on seven private islands that are cheaper than London flats. But talking of property prices is almost pointless because for most of us, ownership is a distant pipe-dream. In April 2012 our council funded research into the London Living Rent. The findings are unpleasant to say the least. Rents which we calculated to be affordable for our residents are about half of the standard market rate. Next door to us in Hackney, residents on the New Era estate are facing eviction because Britain's richest Tory MP decided to hike their rents up.
There are nearly two million households on the social housing waiting list nationally (and one in ten Londoners), the majority of which have been there for over a year . The bottom line is that Britain can't afford a roof over its head, and as the world's sixth-largest economy it's a shocking indictment of our political system. One might think that government would be doing all it could to make things easier for residents. But large sections of the political establishment actively welcome soaring house prices. The government's 'Help to Buy' scheme has been virtually useless, based as it was on ideological commitments that already failed in the 1980s rather than a response to the current situation.
Unlike other councils, we won't evict people because the Tory Party tell us to. We in Tower Hamlets are proud that we took the step to bail out 2,500 families hit by the brutal Bedroom Tax, and diverted £800,000 to help residents hit by the benefit cap. We have made the decision to house those residents who still cannot afford to live in temporary accommodation, rather than doing what other councils have and deporting them out of London and away from their communities. There are ways of solving the accommodation crisis, and they are simple to implement. Most of them aren't even especially radical.
In 2006, homeless charity Shelter published a paper on the Selective Licensing powers for the private rented sector permitted by the 2004 Housing Act. Simply put, these powers allow councils to impose conditions on landlords to create safer communities. Last week we began the process of consulting people on this. It's a vital first step in a climate where landlords control the market because so many are desperate for a home. It's an effective way of bringing rogue landlords under some level of democratic control, tackling crime and antisocial behaviour, solving the housing crisis and creating healthier communities for those who need them most. Yet precious few authorities have bothered adopting these schemes so far. We will be among a handful of councils that dare to say to say to landlords that to operate in our area, you must recognise that residents come first. In 2012, we also agreed charters between housing groups and tenants which among other things ensured accountability and stopped fast-track evictions. It is a shame that so few will take even the most basic steps towards fixing our housing system.
There are plenty of other things we can do, both to control rent and to provide homes. Tower Hamlets has the UK's first Community Land Trust, where land can be held in common to ensure it serves the interests of ordinary people first. More affordable rent schemes are must- but disgracefully Boris Johnson insisted on refusing to let councils set their own rents for many new developments to ensure prices didn't get too affordable. Fortunately, though, some housing providers have signed up to our recommended London Living Rent-style rates. A further vital thing we have done is start to undo the horrific damage of the 1980s' auction of social homes by taking more properties back into council ownership. They can then be rented at prices vulnerable people have a chance of affording.
We are hearing a lot about development at the moment. The Mayor of London has released an audacious paper about what London should look like. From the Olympics to the airports debate everyone is excited about the modernising face of London. And yet too often ordinary people are promised affordable homes, then shut out of the development process whilst space is eaten up by unaccountable giants. We have been taking full advantage of the law's Section 106 affordable housing provision to get money for fair development. Tower Hamlets was listed last week as top-rated for future growth prospects, after decades of neglect. We are determined to take advantage of that growth to serve the people who elected us first and foremost. After creating thousands of affordable homes in our last term, we have pledged 5,000 new affordable homes this term. From the Community Land Trust plan to the regeneration of central Whitechapel, we have a plan to deliver it. It is tough but not impossible, and it's time that the rest of the country stepped up to the plate. There are millions of people struggling to afford to live, and they deserve better.