Green Party London Mayor candidate Siân Berry formally launched her election campaign today, highlighting a range of proposals to “strengthen the rights” of London’s rising number of private renting tenants, including greater security against evictions, helping co-ops buy out landlords, arguing for an end to the housing benefit cap and lobbying national government for powers to introduce rent controls in the capital.
A private renter herself, Berry unveiled her plans to the media in Lower Clapton where she spoke to a 25-year-old fellow private tenant who is charged £775 a month – 40 per cent of her take home income – for a room in a flat within a terraced house, which she shares with two other people.
Berry, who is also defending her seat on the London Assembly, promised that as Mayor she would “push the government until London gets the powers we need,” including by making common cause with Mayors of other cities to secure them.
Saying that “almost every other major city has lower rents than London” and “almost every other EU country has better protections for tenants,” she claimed that Labour incumbent Sadiq Khan has failed to be “a real champion for renters, bringing down skyrocketing rents, and bringing up the standards of housing”.
Around 2.4 million of London’s nine million resident population are private tenants, according to City Hall, more than double the number in the mid-1990s. The evidence base for the Mayor’s housing strategy notes “significant growth” in the number of private renting households from across the income distribution spectrum, in particular among better-off households. Nearly one in three private renting households includes children, up from one of five in 2004.
Khan published a report in July 2019 setting out proposals for a “fundamental overhaul” of private rented sector homes, including powers to compile a “universal register of landlords and rents” and to regulate rents from City Hall, in conjunction with increased building of social and other “affordable” homes. A London Private Rent Commission would implement and enforce rent reductions.
He launched his original re-election campaign last year, saying his demand for rent controls would be a central plank of it. But Berry told On London he has “done nothing since”, while the pandemic has seen many renters fall into arrears. “Small businesses have been bailed out, they’ve been let off their business rates and renters need the same deal from government but they are being ignored.”
Berry, who is making her third mayoral bid after finishing third in 2016 and fourth in 2008, claimed some credit for the work Khan did, saying she had been pressing him to make relevant amendments to the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill back in 2015, when he was an MP and she had yet to even be selected as an Assembly candidate.
She stressed that London would need “the right model” for private sector rental regulation, noting that Khan had called on the expertise of the New Economics Foundation think tank as well as his then Deputy for Housing James Murray and housing specialist Karen Buck MP.
“We get someone independent to determine the right rent levels we should be aiming for,” Berry said, advocating an initial “rent freeze” period followed by “a mechanism to bring rents down over time.” She acknowledged the “really important” need to “give certainty to the market” to avoid the potential damage of destabilising it”.
Recent analysis of the effects of rent controls in Berlin, brought in a year ago by a coalition city administration of Greens and left and centre left parties, has found that while rents in rent capped properties fell in relative terms, newer dwellings, excluded from the policy, have seen rents rise faster in response to growing demand. The analysis has also found in increase in landlords selling properties.
However, Berry said this underlined the importance of finding the right mechanism for London’s “unique” renting market and placing control of it mayoral hands. “I believe in devolution,” she said. “We need our own model and it needs to be down to the Mayors of our big cities. Our rents in London are about double anywhere else in the country.”
Berry has previously commissioned research into how renting housemates can become home co-owners and championed the London Renters’ Union. She promises further policies for renters, including mayoral financial backing for co-op housing and new build-to-rent policies, in her forthcoming manifesto.
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