Three cheers for the Mayor. He’s just bitten the bullet. Looked up to the sky-scraping tip of the housing crisis and offered an answer. The Mayor – in a speech yesterday – invoked the building boom that followed the Second World War: he announced plans to construct 160,000 more homes, to build them taller, and build them denser; this, he said, would make life in the city more affordable for all residents. “We will lose something essential about the gestalt” of the city, said the Mayor’s deputy, if the paltry rate of construction goes on any longer. Everybody knew what that meant: a city gradually given over to the well-heeled, at the expense of the poor, the not-so-poor and the middlingly-off.
Boris Johnson? Alas no. The Mayor giving the speech belonged to New York, not to London. But how Westminster could do with a copy of the Bill de Blasio speech.
Over here the housing situation remains more or less as it was. Or rather, slightly worse than it was at the beginning of the week. A group of private property developers – including the charitable likes of Grosvenor Estates and Qatari Diar, the property arm of the Qatari royal family – have criticised the Government for not making them build enough affordable housing. This “will actually lead to a further erosion of the ability of people from a wide range of backgrounds to live in the heart of the capital,” they write. At which point, presumably, wolves lay down with lambs and leopards moved into shared rental accommodation with goats.
The shortage of homes – affordable and otherwise – puts a crimp on life beyond the M25. Buyers across the country, and particularly in the North West, were taking on unhealthy levels of debt, the deputy Bank of England Governor warned last year, to keep up with 10 per cent house price rises. High demand, low supply. It’s a lot easier to trot out the problem than, like de Blasio, go at it in ways that might create losers alongside the winners.
In pictures: Homeless Veterans appeal
In pictures: Homeless Veterans appeal
1/20 Glynn Barrell
Glyn Barrell is among the veterans hoping to benefit from the self-build scheme in Plymouth
2/20 Rachel Holliday
Rachel Holliday is converting a police station into a hostel
3/20 Androcles Scicluna
Veteran Androcles Scicluna says performing boosted his confidence
4/20 Christopher Cole
Christopher Cole, 51, from London, spent three years in the Army but left in 1982
5/20 Maurillia Simpson
Former servicewoman Maurillia Simpson with the medals she won at last year’s Invictus Games
Jeremy Selwyn/Evening Standard
6/20 Martin Rutledge
Head of The Soldiers’ Charity, Martin Rutledge, says charities sometimes allow emotion to dictate their choices
7/20 Ben Griffin
Ben Griffin wants to open people’s eyes to the cycle of political violence
8/20 Robin Horsfall
Robin Horsfall, who fought in the Falklands and helped end the Iranian embassy siege
9/20 Mark Hayward
A bed for the night and food helped Mark Hayward out of misfortune
10/20 Ashley Rosser
Ashley Rosser, who served in the RAF, at the Veterans Aid hostel in east London
11/20 Dave Henson
Britain's Invictus Games captain Dave Henson says veterans’ charities helped rebuild his life
Chris Jackson/Getty Images
12/20 Hugh Milroy
Hugh Milroy dispels myths about war-zone veterans through his work as the CEO of Veterans Aid
13/20 Andy MacFarlane and Julie Taylor
Former soldiers Andy MacFarlane and Julie Taylor work at the Jaguar Land Rover plant in Solihull under a covenant connecting veterans with employers
14/20 Mark McKillion
Mark McKillion's experience of living on the street eventually left him feeling as though the only way to escape was to end his life. He survived his desperate jump from Westminster Bridge, and VA's help has restored his "faith in humanity"
Nigel, a navy veteran, remembers living on the beach in the run-up to Christmas, when it rained every day for a week. He slept on a bench for seven years whilst suffering from Parkinson's disease.
16/20 Keith Cooper
Before Keith Cooper had his place confirmed at Avondale House in Newcastle, he was working out whether he could afford to buy a tent to live in
17/20 Simon Weston
Simon Weston, a Falklands War veteran, said even something as simple as a cup of tea can be an important step in getting the life of a homeless veteran back on track.
18/20 Ian Palmer, professor of military psychiatry
Ian Palmer, the first professor of military psychiatry to the British Armed Forces, says that the depiction of all ex-service personnel having post-traumatic stress disorder may stop people who really need help from getting it
19/20 Douglas Cameron
Evgeny Lebedev with Douglas Cameron, who had a hernia operation while serving in Burma
Johnnie Shand Kidd
20/20 Veterans Aid
General Sir Mike Jackson, President of ABF The Soldiers' Charity, called for donations to the Homeless Veterans appeal
Start with “affordable homes”. The issue here is that the Government’s definition of “affordable” – at 80 per cent of market-rates – is too expensive, and those being asked to build the properties - private developers - have found it too easy to skirt the requirement to do so. Homes are needed at the bottom end of the market, at “affordable” prices that are not, if you look closely, actually unaffordable. As nobody else has managed it since the state stopped building, the Government should take up the burden once more. Housing charity Shelter says £6.1bn over the course of the next parliament – with the same again coming from private investment – would start the engine. A council house boom. If releasing the cost of housing’s chokehold isn’t enough of a reason, try one consequence of it: a reduction in housing benefit.
Or we can stick as we are. A divided house – owners and non-owners; old and young; rich and poor – pulling further apart.