When I was elected as mayor of London I put building new council homes at the top of my agenda.
I grew up in a council house, so I know first-hand how valuable they are in helping people fulfil their potential. My family had security at a rent we could afford, and I don’t underestimate how vital this was in giving me the best start in life.
The need for council homes, and other genuinely affordable homes, in London has never been more acute. While the average cost of renting has fallen in London during the Covid-19 pandemic, the capital remains the least affordable area of the country in which to rent, and the number of tenants in arrears increased sharply over the last year as large numbers of Londoners were left without work.
Meanwhile, overcrowding in London nearly doubled in 2020, with private renters and Black and minority ethnic families the worst-hit. The number of homeless people has also increased, with a Londoner ten times as likely to be homeless as someone in the rest of England.
These factors have been exacerbated by right to buy and deep funding cuts to councils that have stripped out the ability of many to build.
But now - forty years after Margaret Thatcher wrote off council housing - I’m proud to be working hand-in-glove with London’s boroughs to deliver a renaissance in council homebuilding in the capital, by investing in helping councils get back on their feet and start building again.
New figures I’ve released today show I funded more than 3,000 new council homes last year, despite the pandemic. Over the last two years, more new council homes started being built than at any point since the early 1980s. And in the year running up to the Covid crisis, we started work on more new affordable council homes in London than the rest of the country put together. Over the next three years, I’m determined to keep building on that success both by constructing new homes and helping councils to increase their council housing stock from the open market.
Under the right to buy, 300,000 council homes were sold in London without replacement, and many are now owned and rented out by private landlords at high rents. That’s why I’ve pledged to fund councils to buy back these homes so they can be rented out at affordable rates.
A desire for a decent place to live should not be a political issue. Any honest politician comes into this job with a desire to help people, and there are few things that have been shown to be better for a person’s mental and physical health than having an affordable home in which they feel safe and secure.
I want ministers to work with us and councils across the country to help us do more. This is something we should be able to collaborate on regardless of political affiliation. It was, after all, the former Conservative Prime Minister Harold Macmillan who broke records for building council housing as a minister in the 1950s.
The truth is you can’t fix the housing crisis without councils playing a much bigger part in building new homes. Our experience in London over the last five years shows what can be done – and how the government could help deliver a council housing comeback right across the country.
Sadiq Khan has been mayor of London since 2016
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