Yesterday marked the inaugural meeting of the Board of Homes for Londoners – the Mayor of London’s body to oversee housing policy, strategy and delivery.  Chaired by Mayor himself, Homes for Londoners is the fulfilment of one of Sadiq Khan’s key election campaign pledges.


At this stage, however, it is not clear whether it will be any different at all from Boris Johnson’s original Homes for London Board that performed the same role in his second term.  Indeed, while there are obviously new faces, the Board’s structure remains the same with appointees from London Councils, the property sector and big housing associations.  At this stage, neither social tenants nor the Capital’s homeless households are directly represented.  The Mayor should co-opt both a tenants’ rep and someone from a homelessness charity onto the Board before it meets next.


Neither is the new Board’s remit dramatically different from its predecessor’s.  It will meet quarterly and will oversee the GLA’s housing investment programmes, monitoring delivery of new affordable homes and advise on his new Housing Strategy.  Nothing much new there.  But it will also commission task and finish working groups as appropriate to investigate and develop proposals to boost housing delivery.  Interestingly, three of these groups were established yesterday – new models of housing delivery, skills and capacity in the construction industry and the role of overseas buyers in London’s property market.  All three have some thorny issues to chew over.


The first item of substance on the agenda was the funding guidance for the 2016-21 Affordable Homes Programme.  The housing headlines since the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement have been dominated by his supposed largesse to the affordable housing sector, and he has certainly been more generous than his own predecessor.  But that’s hardly saying much.  The £3.15 billion heading to London covers a four-year period, and even includes £643 million already paid to the GLA as part of the Government’s 2015-18 Affordable Housing Programme.  It is still less than the funding Boris inherited from Gordon Brown’s 2007 Spending Review.


Of course, the subsidy regime for new social housing has changed fundamentally since 2007, and so, even though he is shifting the emphasis away from low cost home ownership to social rented and “London Living Rent” homes, Sadiq is able to suggest this funding and other policies will deliver 90,000 new affordable homes by 2021.  Inevitably, he has claimed the £3.15 billion as a victory for his own lobbying.  In truth, it is probably as much a response to the Tory Mayoral candidate’s defeat and a reflection of a subtle political shift since Theresa May’s accession to the Premiership, especially by the new guard at DCLG. The welcome U-turn on “Pay to Stay” is another example.


The most positive aspect of this prospectus, is the level playing field it assumes between housing associations and local authorities.  With the big G15 associations seemingly obsessed about mega-mergers and blind to the deteriorating repairs and housing management services many of them are providing, Zacchaeus 2000 Trust really hopes London boroughs will step up and stake a claim to a big slice of this new grant funding.  Perhaps it is also time for the Mayor to send a clear message to the worst performing associations that there will be no more public money until they get their house in order and start treating tenants properly.


The Board also received a note on the Mayor’s draft Affordable Housing & Viability Supplementary Planning Guidance published last week.  This proposes to end the financial viability assessment process for those schemes including at least 35 per cent affordable housing and to expose those schemes that don’t to much greater transparency and scrutiny.  This isn’t yet the “tariff” that would help most, but it is a big “nudge” to those developers who have been minimising affordable housing in their schemes.  No doubt, this is being driven by the Deputy Mayor for Housing, James Murray, who led the way on this agenda while he was Islington’s Cabinet Member for Housing & Planning.


Overall then, Homes for Londoners has made a decent start, but London’s housing crisis is worsening every day, and it will take immense effort over the next four years to turn the tide.