For a while now, we’ve been muttering this phrase to anyone who’ll listen. When it comes to London’s biggest issue – to misquote Bill Clinton – it’s housing, stupid. This city is in the grip of a huge housing crisis. Rents are shooting up, house prices are beyond the reach of even middle income earners, and we’re about 500,000 homes short of the number we need. And yet, for some reason, politicians are fixated on transport.
Just look at the last Mayoral election. Even Ken Livingstone told us that housing was the most important issue, yet the election was fought on transport and tax. Labour are still pushing a campaign to bring down fares. It’s true, fares have gone up (we’ve got a list of prices from 2000-2013), but an annual rise of 4.2% on your travelcard hits your pocket far less than an annual 4.8% rise on your rent.
Why aren’t our leaders and the media talking more about this? We know you’re interested. You read, share and comment on articles about housing more than just about any other topic. When we went on Twitter and asked for your stories about bad property viewings, we were genuinely overwhelmed by the sheer volume and enthusiasm with which you responded. And we’re in it with you: when one of our own editors has to move to what he’s optimistically calling “The Future London Borough of Elstree and Borehamwood” because he can’t afford to live within the city’s boundaries, there’s a problem.
We have a few theories about why transport gets talked about more. Firstly, we use transport every day. There’s that constant reminder of how much it costs when you have to renew your travelcard or see the PAYG total deplete. We move home or have a rent increase far less often, it’s not at the forefront of our minds. In London, transport’s an easy political button to press if you want to get a reaction.
Secondly, transport is less complicated than housing. Transport has been boiled down to ‘low fares versus investment’. There is more to it, but we can all grasp how, if we want the tube to keep working and get better, it has to be paid for. (We’ll leave the ideological argument about whether it should be paid for out of fares or central grants for another day.) Housing is complicated. Insanely complicated. For a start there’s the different types of housing: mortgaged, private rent, social rent, affordable rent, shared ownership, etc. Then there’s the issues of rent control, landlord regulation, where to build, how to fund it, what type to build, high-rise or low-rise, bubble, crash, buying for investment… It’s impossible to put into a soundbite or pithy slogan.
Thirdly, are politicians and press afraid of alienating some of us? The thing about housing is that not everyone’s a loser. If you’re lucky enough to buy, you’ve instantly acquired a hefty asset and might not be interested in policies that could reduce its value. Transport costs, and also energy bills, are things that everyone has to pay with no economic return. A mass building programme that reduced house prices could push some people into negative equity. We wonder if this is one reason why the media’s preferred to give wall-to-wall coverage to the energy bills freeze section of Ed Miliband’s conference speech, rather than exploring issues accompanying his pledge to build 200,000 homes a year.
But we think London can handle these debates. Actually, we think London is crying out for these debates. We want to see more concerted campaigns about housing, like last year’s Homes for London from Shelter, more debates about what these new homes will actually look like and cost. So here at Londonist we’ve decided to put our design where our mouth is. If you look under the ‘News’ menu item you’ll see a new Housing section. Expect regular articles on all sides of the housing debate.
Photo by Chris Goldberg from the Londonist Flickr pool