Five hundred senior housing figures attended the 100,000 Affordable Homes for London campaign hustings on Monday hosted by the National Housing Federation. Candidates from the five main parties highlighted the importance of housing to the election and expressed their desire to work with housing associations to end the city’s housing crisis.
The audience, drawn from housing associations, think tanks and government bodies, had the chance to quiz mayoral candidates on their views in an “Any Questions” style debate chaired by Jonathan Dimbleby. In attendance were the candidates for the Liberal Democrats, UKIP and the Green Party while Labour’s Sadiq Khan MP and Conservative’s Zac Goldsmith MP were represented by James Murray and Stephen Hammond MP, respectively.
Stephen Hammond MP highlighted Zac Goldsmith’s passion for working with housing associations to unlock public land and regenerate estates. UKIP’s Peter Whittle spoke of the “feeling of optimism about what we could achieve together” that the housing association offer provided. Sian Berry highlighted her intention to work with a diversity of housing associations and community land trusts to build truly affordable housing, and speaking for Sadiq Khan MP, James Murray promised to put housing associations’ commitment to 100,000 new affordable homes at the “very core of the consensus we’re building about what London needs”.
All the candidates were supportive of the offer housing associations have made the next mayor in their 100,000 Affordable Homes for London campaign. The sector is asking for priority access to public land, and believes that with GLA investment they could deliver these homes by the end of the next mayoralty. The sector provides excellent value for money for the taxpayer: for every £1 of public money, housing associations raise £7 privately.
Discussing Brexit, Peter Whittle said: “Every decade a million people will be coming to London. Along with sovereignty, that’s why I would like to come out of the EU. It’s apposite to all of London’s problems, and I hope that leaving the EU would ease the demand problems.” Although Zac Goldsmith MP is in the Brexit camp, his stand-in Stephen Hammond MP said: “Confidence in all sorts of things will decrease with the uncertainty of Brexit and Brexit will slow down London’s expansion.”
The shortage of skilled construction workers was another theme on the night and in response to a question of how she would do things differently to the previous two mayors, Caroline Pidgeon said “I’d set up my own building company at City Hall to drive affordable housing building, and I’d set up a construction academy to get skills into the industry as there is a skills shortage.”
Sian Berry quoted a Green party report by Darren Johnson AM on estate regeneration, saying to applause: “Knocking down council houses cannot be the cheapest and quickest way to build new housing. We want to work with residents to identify ways to regenerate their estates, and build infill.” She also proposed a people’s land commission, noting that it was effective in Philadelphia.
Stephen Hammond MP was firm on the need for new housing to be supported by infrastructure, saying: “the two together are vital. That’s why we mustn’t be taking £1.9bn out of TfL’s budget as Sadiq Khan has planned.”
James Murray hit back at the £1.9bn figure and also highlighted the work that housing associations do to prevent homelessness: “the government’s benefit cap will have an impact on the number of families living in temporary accommodation. Vulnerable Londoners need support here, and supported housing, and there’s a real concern that the government’s benefit cap will have an impact here.”
Speaking after the event, National Housing Federation Chief Executive David Orr said: “This election has been called a referendum on housing, and it’s fair to say that housing has decisively proved itself the most important substantive issue in the campaign. London will lose its vital diversity without truly affordable housing for all. Housing associations are here tonight to offer the next mayor a solution to London’s housing crisis. Invest in us, and we’ll invest in London, building 100,000 affordable homes so that everyone has a safe, quality place to call home.”