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Housing

Battle to build ‘the social homes that Londoners need’ dominates mayor bid

Sian Berry says ‘the homes Londoners need’ are not being delivered ahead of May’s mayoral elections

The Covid-19 pandemic has added a new sense of urgency to the UK’s need for a social housing building revolution to house the country’s most vulnerable people.

Back in November, the Local Government Association warned that 100,000 social homes for rent were needed across the country to meet demand that will see waiting lists reach two million people during the Covid-19 pandemic.

But in London there is no sign of a surge in affordable homes, says Green London Mayor candidate Sian Berry.

Berry has warned the number of social homes available in London is set to fall for the first time in four years.

We’re still seeing council homes being lost every year in London

In figures shared with The Big Issue, Berry said that the council housing stock in the English capital stands at 387,327 – a drop of 3,660 homes from the 390,987 homes in London in 2019.

Berry told The Big Issue that she does not believe that housing associations builds will make up the deficit when the results are published in May, meaning a fall in the total social housing stock and a blow to efforts to end London’s housing crisis.

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The Green London Assembly member clashed with London Mayor Sadiq Khan in London Mayor’s Question Time on Thursday.

Berry said: “We both have the same goals in mind which is more council homes, that’s what Londoners need. We’ve seen the biggest council house building since 2016, that is progress.

“But it doesn’t mean that London has turned a corner in terms of net loss on council houses on the ground. We’re still seeing council homes being lost every year in London.”

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Berry’s figures show that 1,468 social homes were lost through Right to Buy sales in 2020 with a further 1,678 demolitions and 2,477 homes lost through other sources, including sell-offs outside Right to Buy and transfers to housing associations according to the Green candidate.

In return, there were 954 social homes built alongside 1,017 acquisitions.

When presented with the figures at the meeting, Khan said that he did not recognise Berry’s figures and asked for them to be sent to him for further investigation.

The current mayor also disagreed with Berry’s suggestion of an immediate suspension of RTB and said that councils need more like-to-like replacements for lost social housing as well as freedom to spend receipts from RTB sales.

Khan said: “Building more council housing is one of my top priorities as mayor. With the number of council homes now growing year on year, there is only a slight decline in the overall stock of council housing in London.

“Last year that was 0.01 per cent, representing the smallest decline since 1991 when records began. I’m hopeful that my policies combined with the ambition and hard work of boroughs will see this small decline turn into an increase for the first time in 30 years. I’m doing everything I can to make this happen.”

Berry also told The Big Issue of her plan to use £535m that is yet to be allocated from the £4.82bn government-funded Affordable Housing Programme to purchase homes from private landlords if she is elected in May.

One in seven London tenants are behind on rent, according to Citizens Advice, and Berry said that the financial strain on landlords could force them to sell up, leaving tenants with nowhere to go.

A London Housing Committee report released last week called for the funding to be used for long-term housing solutions for rough sleepers and Berry insisted the money could be used to tackle urgent issues in the housing market.

She added: “I think there’s there’s a lot that can be done with that money if we shift our focus from building to acquiring homes and correcting this problem that’s been going on in the market.”

Outside of London, national figures released on Thursday showed that the number of homes sold through Right to Buy plummeted 43 per cent in the last year with local authorities selling an estimated 1,548 dwellings between July and September last year.

The Westminster Government blamed the “period of national restrictions introduced in response to the COVID-19 pandemic” for the 682 homes built or bought by local authorities – a 50 per cent drop.

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