London is a great city – but with shameful levels of homelessness. Too many Londoners have been let down by decades of short-sighted national policies and underinvestment in homes they can afford.
It is clear for all to see that London’s housing market is broken, with runaway rents and a chronic shortage of social and affordable homes.
This is why the capital accounts for almost 70% of homelessness in England. It is why more than 55,000 London households, including 88,000 children, live in temporary accommodation. And, it is why every visitor notices the shocking scale of rough sleeping.
Homelessness puts relentless pressure on individuals, families and communities. It affects people’s health and wellbeing, undermining adults’ ability to hold down jobs and children’s performance at school.
Skyrocketing rates of homelessness are also putting unsustainable pressures on boroughs’ budgets.
Recent London Councils research shows local authorities in the capital are spending more than £200m on homelessness costs not covered by Government grants or councils’ housing income. On current trends, this figure is set to increase.
Ending the homelessness crisis is a priority for London boroughs. That is why we are urging the Government to reduce housing costs by boosting the Local Housing Allowance (LHA). Doing so will help up to 200,000
Londoners renting privately who received the LHA as part of their housing benefit or Universal Credit payment.
Our analysis shows only up to 15% of rents in London are covered by the LHA. Given that the Government’s freeze on LHA is due to end next year, it is crucial that LHA increases so that it covers at least 30% of the cost of renting.
We also need stronger powers to protect much-needed housing from being used inappropriately for short-term lets.
Across London, many thousands of properties are being taken out of the market for unregulated, highly profitable short-term letting – and boroughs want to clamp down on this.
Ultimately, we need to tackle homelessness by building more affordable homes. London boroughs want to play a leading role in this by delivering a new generation of high-quality council housing.
However, local authorities still face unfair Government restrictions that leave us trying to build homes with one hand tied behind our back. For example, the rules for use of Right to Buy (RTB) receipts mean just 30% of the
cost of a new council home can be funded from RTB sales, with all receipts required to be spent within three years.
The Government should end these unnecessary restrictions. Giving councils the power and resources to deliver large-scale housebuilding will increase social provision and make a real difference to homelessness rates.
But boroughs are also organising collaborative, innovative approaches so that we can improve the immediate situation for homeless Londoners.
We have set up PLACE: a not-for-profit company that will provide modular homes for boroughs to use as high-quality temporary accommodation on meanwhile sites. We have also established Capital Letters, which is driving forward joint procurement of temporary accommodation in London with the aim of reducing competition between the boroughs and helping homeless households stay in their local area.
I am proud of boroughs’ ambition and determination on this issue, but there’s no room for complacency. There’s so much more we should do – and that includes central Government.
Through working together, we must end London’s status as the capital of homelessness and provide the housing that Londoners need.
Cllr Darren Rodwell is London Councils' executive member for housing and planning
The London Summit takes place at The Guildhall in London on Saturday 23 November. Registration is now open. https://www.londoncouncils.gov.uk/who-we-are/conferences-and-events/london-councils-summit-2019