What does a majority Conservative government means for London's housing crisis? We're afraid the outlook isn't good. The Tory manifesto contained very little in the way of constructive proposals to help us out of the mess of spiralling house prices and rents, a lack of genuinely affordable house building and bland, characterless developments designed to bring in at least 20% profit.
If you rent, and were looking forward to longer tenancies, bans on agency fees or bad landlords, you're out of luck. There's nothing in Conservative plans to help you. Even the one positive action in the last parliament, banning of revenge evictions, was brought in because of the Liberal Democrats.
Nor can we expect to see an increase in building. The manifesto pledged 200,000 starter homes to be sold at a 20% discount to people under 40 years old. 275,000 'affordable homes' are promised by 2020, though it's unclear whether these are shared ownership or 'affordable rent' schemes (which can be up to 80% of market rates), though given the manifesto also mentions 10,000 homes to rent at below market rates we suspect the former is shared ownership. All these homes are across the whole country and the five years of parliament. (To put this into context, London Councils thinks London needs 800,000 new homes by 2021.) Help To Buy, the consensus on which is mixed, is still around, as is a new Help To Buy ISA which isn't going to be much help at all.
The outlook for housing associations and council building is also not good. Not only has David Cameron restated his commitment to extend Right To Buy to housing associations (the idiocy of which we dealt with a few weeks ago), the amount of grant money available from the government to build between 2015-2018 is £3.3bn. This compares with £4.5bn in 2011-2015, and £8.4bn in 2008-2011. There's also little chance of the Conservatives lifting restrictions on councils borrowing to build more social housing, as they don't want that short-to-medium term debt appearing on the nation's accounts. (Yes, the commitment to lowering the deficit means councils can't build more houses, even though in the long term it creates assets.)
At a time when rents are increasing beyond the ability of anyone on low wages to pay them, the benefit cap will be lowered from £26,000 a year to £23,000 a year. In London, around one in four households claim housing benefit, and the capital's housing benefit bill was over £6bn in 2012-13 (let's take a moment to remember that housing benefit goes to landlords, not claimants). This lowering of the cap will push more low income households into the outer boroughs, putting more pressure on services there. 18-21 year olds will also no longer be automatically entitled to housing benefit (again, let's remember that under 35s who are single can only claim enough for a bedsit or houseshare anyway), so let's hope there are lots of understanding families out there.
We expect to see a number of comments responding to this article saying 'well, if you can't afford to live in London you should move'. This assumes the housing crisis was inevitable, that it's something we should all just suck up and deal with. The truth is, it's been caused by 30 years of government inaction — Conservative and Labour — failing to replace homes sold off under Right To Buy, or simply building enough homes to keep up once London's population stopped declining and people started moving back. That's building through central funding, allowing councils to build or encouraging enough private development. What we should be asking is: why isn't the government taking action to take the pressure off so we can all live closer to our jobs and families?
Depressingly, it looks as though we're about to add five more years of inaction. How bad do things have to get before change happens?