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05/02/2016

What's the Plan B for housing recovery?

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London needs to consider a feasible way of housing all who want to live in the capital, including making its private rented sector work for everyone, says Hannah Wright.

As the London Mayoral elections approach, the capital is reimagining how it plans its priorities. But London must consider the effect that the cost of living in the capital has on its ability to compete. London attracts a wide swathe of society, given its innovation hubs, diverse community, distinctive neighbourhoods and cultural off er. Its population is at its highest ever. Yet more 30-39 year olds are leaving London than ever before.

After fi ve years in the capital, I understand why people would feel the need to leave. We face a disproportionate cost of living to earning, charged housing searches, long commutes and intense competition for school places. More mobile Londoners are questioning their ability to stay; the less mobile are left with a poorer quality of life.

"After five years in the capital, I understand why people would feel the need to leave"

The government has responded to the drop in home ownership with initiatives that place an overwhelming emphasis on building and buying homes. And the emphasis on home ownership compounds the issues; the Starter Homes Initiative, for example, risks sacrificing the provision of affordable homes to rent.

Th e cost of housing makes buying far from a reality for most. Although surveys show that people still aspire to own a home, I can’t help but wonder in what timescale buying becomes a realistic possibility.
We need to consider more feasible options. Finding a London rental property is messy and competitive – yet projections show that rental demographics will continue to grow. Savills predicts a 22.8 per cent increase in mainstream rent in the next five years.

But “Generation Rent” campaigns highlight how existing rental models don’t work for tenants. Tenancies are short term and the ability of landlords to hike rents at the end of an agreement has altered the power balance between landlords and tenants. Th is, and problems such as poor housing, makes it difficult for a range of renters from families with children to the growing number of over- 35s renting.

What is the Plan B for housing recovery should government initiatives fail to provide the quality and quantity of homes needed? London, like cities in, say, Germany and the Netherlands, must seriously consider mechanisms to make the private rented sector work for its diverse range of households. Link that with interventions to improve genuinely public space, health, wellbeing and active travel in the city, and London can keep the talent that it needs.

Hannah Wright is a senior planner at Arup

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