Diary Day 105: An Open Letter To London Mayoral Candidates About The Housing Crisis

Dear Mayoral Candidate,

This letter is to set out what I see are the failings in policy that I am looking to you to address, in order for me to decide on who I vote for in the London Mayoral Elections.

For many years I’ve been on the receiving end of the housing crisis in London. Before I became disabled and welfare-dependent, it was because I was low waged or a keyworker.  Since then, it’s because my disability renders me unfit to work. Because of that, my rent is paid by housing benefit.

When I was working, I lived and worked in London. I still live in London – just. Last year I was at risk of being made homeless and it was only by luck, not Mayoral or Governmental policy, that I found somewhere suitable to live.

History of London housing crisis isn’t only recent 

I’m in a unique position to have seen how the Conservative Government of the 80s and 90s, New Labour in the 90s to 2010, Coalition and now Tory governments have influenced the London housing crisis. Of course I’ve also seen and heard how the London Mayor has attempted to do the same.

It is clear that one influences the other and not the other way around. Economic policy, the push for right to buy in the 80s, the sky rocketing rents as the market inflated, all of those things impacted me.

When I was first working, I lived at home. My friends and colleagues in the late 80s and 90s were only able to ‘get on the ladder’ because their parents lent them money for the deposit, they married someone which doubled their income or because a family member died and their inheritance went towards their deposit.

I’ve never been in any of those situations so I’ve always rented. Eventually I earned enough to move into my first flat. By the time 1998 had been and gone, my salary would not have covered the purchase price of a London flat according to mortgage companies.

Talking about getting on the ladder failed to mean anything to me that far back, and it still does today. 

The London housing crisis for a worker such as myself  is that long standing and that entrenched.

When I became a keyworker the situation worsened. Keyworkers housing schemes did not ‘speak’ to me because they still required a disposable income to save up for the deposit and pay for the half / half rent / purchase that those schemes require.

Plus, of course, I did not earn enough to cover the cost of the purchase price. Many, many, many keyworkers like myself were in the same position.

Building on green belt won’t solve the problem of increased costs in London

Building on the green belt won’t solve the problem for people on low incomes. People on low incomes need to travel into work. The cost of London travel has risen so much that the cost of paying rent plus council tax plus travel renders it unaffordable for keyworkers or people on low incomes to live in London.

Housing whilst on housing benefit 

Since I’ve been deemed by the DWP and ATOS to be unfit to work due to ill health, I’ve had an experience of housing which I can only describe as Dickensian torture.

My entire blog has documented fully the realities and failings of Local Councils in London to address the lack of affordable housing and accessible housing to people who are using Housing Benefit to pay the rent.

In my area, the (Tory) Council has:

  • no council housing available to house me despite having a disability
  • no department to support people like myself to find affordable housing (despite their website saying they do)
  • an unresponsive Environmental Health team who do not respond to evidence that local tenants are living in low quality housing
  • no local landlord list to provide to people who are renting on housing benefit (despite saying they do)
  • a track record of waiving the requirement for a percentage of affordable housing  in planning decisions
  • setting the ‘affordable housing’ definition so high it automatically excludes those on low incomes or benefits
  • a proven record of supporting Right To Buy since the 80s, thus depleting existing council housing stock
  • a proven record of having not built new council housing since the 1960s
  • a proven record of approving planning applications by large organisations rather than their own
  • a proven record of investing in town center regeneration rather than affordable or council housing

The net result is that for people such as myself, they are reliant on private landlords to house them and the council housing system is a failure because it is out of reach.

Again, I’ve documented fully my experience of this in this blog.

The London housing problems could be resolved by addressing: 

  • No legal requirement for London Councils to build council housing
  • No legal requirement for London Councils to enforce affordable housing percentages in new planning applications
  • No legal requirement for London Councils to provide regulatory structures and support for private tenancies in their area
  • No legal requirement for London Councils to provide a private landlord list for people who are on benefits or low incomes
  • No legal requirement for London Councils to prove they are actively addressing the need for housing for people on benefits or low incomes

In addition: 

  • The Housing Benefit cap for London tenancies MUST be increased to cover the average market rents.
  • People on benefits or low incomes are being actively excluded from London tenancies because the housing benefit cap does not cover average market rents.

Doing this will mean that the London rental market will start to respond to the need for housing for those on benefits or low incomes. We’ll start to have a possibility to remain.

At the moment the market is unregulated in that way. That means that it is up to the Lettings Agencies or Landlords to choose whether they will consider Housing Benefit tenants or not. Due to the competitiveness of the market and preference for salaried tenants, in my experience they won’t. this MUST change.

It isn’t illegal to discriminate against people on Housing Benefit due to disability 

Throughout my experience of seeking out a new place to live (because the old place was unfit for habitation and the Council wouldn’t and couldn’t help me) I was astonished at the attitudes of the letting agents and landlords towards renting to people on Housing Benefit because they are disabled.

I was upfront about the reasons for my being on Benefits, but the discrimination remained.

They saw the benefits status as the main issue, not my disability.

I had endless situations of people working in lettings agencies saying that my disability ‘didn’t matter,’, ‘wasn’t the point,’ and ‘doesn’t make any difference to the owner.’

I had direct discrimination from some very high profile high street names of Estate Agents who, once they found out I was someone on benefits, either didn’t return my calls, told me I’d not be considered because ‘it was a policy in our company not to take people on housing benefit.

The most regularly stated reason was: ‘we can’t recommend to a landlord that we’ll take you because if they decide that they need the property back, the Council will advise you to remain in there, so the landlord will have to evict you. We tell our landlords not to take Housing Benefit tenants for that reason.’

After 5 months of searching for somewhere to live, I had doors slammed in my face from many high street names including M****w James who simply said: “I’ve got to stop you there, we never take housing benefit tenants. We won’t advise landlords to take you and it’s company policy. It’s not worth us continuing with this call,’ and they put the phone down.

They were not alone. Many, many estate agents wouldn’t consider me. In the end I found somewhere to live DESPITE this.

I found somewhere because a landlord had a family member with the same disability as me, and they took pity on me. No-one helped. The Council couldn’t because they didn’t have the team or resources to help house people on benefits or with disabilities, despite their website advertising that they do.

Due to the housing benefit cap in London I have to pay the additional rent that isn’t covered from Housing Benefit out of my ESA payments which leaves me with weeks that I can’t eat properly – all this in order to remain housed in London.

There is so much wrong with London’s housing crisis that this open letter barely touches on part of it.

You need to know this – during the hustings I’m listening out for 2 things:

  1. Which candidate really appreciates the dynamics at the level I’ve detailed here,
  2. Which candidate tells me something is going to change in a way that meaningfully addresses all of the above. 

Thank you for reading,

Lindy.

 

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