Soaring rents, rising homelessness and demand far outstripping supply – London’s boroughs, City Hall and others have been chronicling this growing housing crisis in the capital. Now a new report from the Centre for London think tank, published today, provides more compelling evidence that the need for action is urgent.
Entitled Homes Fit for Londoners: London’s Homes Today, it sets out a bleak picture. Fifty per cent more people are sleeping rough in London compared to a decade ago, and more than 300,000 people are on council waiting lists for social housing. The boroughs are struggling to provide temporary accommodation for the increasing numbers of homeless people who qualify.
An acute shortage of social housing – council waiting list numbers topped 33,000 last year in Lambeth and Newham alone – has seen private renting double this century to account for 29 per cent of London’s homes, with 49 per cent owner-occupied and a declining proportion, 22 per cent, in the social rented sector.
High rents mean more Londoners pushed into relative poverty too – 27 per cent compared to 22 per cent nationally. Median monthly private rents of £1,200 compared to £680 in England as a whole are seeing private renters in the capital spending a greater proportion of their income on rent than in any other English region – 40 per cent compared with 26 per cent.
Half of London’s homes were built before 1945, which may contribute to the startling fact that two in five Londoners have experienced damp or mould in their home in the past year. In addition, 11 per cent of London homes are overcrowded, as against four per cent in England overall.
It’s a dramatically variable picture too. Five per cent of homes in Richmond are overcrowded, but 22 per cent are in Newham. In Tower Hamlets, less than a third of homes are owner-occupied. In Havering the figure is 70 per cent. White British Londoners are more than twice as likely as black counterparts to own their home, and two-thirds of the city’s nine million people now live in outer London, suggesting a “hollowing out” of the centre.
Many Londoners endure conditions that are “increasingly insecure, unsafe, and further away from the city centre,” the report finds. “If we don’t provide Londoners with the affordable homes they need to live in the city, the key workers who keep London running will have no choice but to leave.”
While new homes are being built – 37,000 net additions in 2021/22, the second highest figure of any region, just below the South East – the proportion of affordable homes, at a fifth of total supply, continues to fall short. The report welcomes Sadiq Khan’s recent boost to council home building, but warns of a long way to go to address current demand. Khan himself last week called for extra government cash to “kickstart a slowing housing market” and keep affordable housing programmes on track in the face of escalating cost pressures.
But for too long, said Claire Harding, interim chief executive at the centre and co-author of the report, politicians had been complacent about the lack of decent homes for Londoners. “Too many Londoners are living in poor housing and being forced into poverty as a result,” she said. “As our research shows, this is especially true for people from disadvantaged and minority communities.”
Alongside a wide-ranging review of policy options, the report argues for a step-up in partnership working, with policymakers collaborating with businesses, housing developers and investors to find broad solutions rather than addressing parts of the crisis only. “Progress in building more affordable homes can only be achieved through big thinking about long-term solutions,” said Harding.
Centre For London’s own big thinking, setting out its package of policy proposals, will be published this winter.