Homes for Londoners

Nivethika Srirangan
Nov 6 · 4 min read
Photo by Benjamin Davies on Unsplash

On the second day of my On Purpose placement with the London Borough of Ealing I was invited to attend the exclusive Homes for Londoners event. Being completely new to the social housing sector and only one day in, I felt totally out of my depth yet excited to attend.

The event appropriately took place at The Royal Victoria Docks, an area of current and planned regeneration I was soon to find out. The day consisted of a series of key note speeches and panels providing a forum for the Greater London Authority (GLA) to showcase its commitment to building genuinely affordable homes. For me, it was an insightful overview of the opportunities and challenges faced by residents, boroughs, developers, investors, homebuilders, and housing associations during the housing crisis and the inescapable uncertainty of Brexit.

James Murray (Deputy Mayor of Housing and Residential Development) and Rokshana Fiaz (Mayor of Newham) led the Borough representative briefing. They set the tone of the day by highlighting the basic human right to have a roof over your head with hard hitting facts like “7,000 children in temporary housing today”. We walked away with a sense of purpose, to keep residents and social housing at the heart of conversations as we networked with private developers and investors through the day.

This sentiment was later reiterated by Mayor of London Sadiq Khan.

“What Londoners need are more council, social rented and other genuinely affordable homes. I’ll do everything I can to help, and I’ll continue to lobby Government hard for the money London needs, but everyone has a role to play, and that includes developers”.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan discussing his plans to deliver affordable homes for Londoners with Rokshana Fiaz, Mayor of Newham

With several panel discussions to choose from, I chose to focus on economic challenges and civic engagement. The panels were diverse, inspiring an open dialogue. Here are a few things I learned:

Economic Challenges

  1. In the last 22 years the government has had 18 different housing ministers, indicative of where housing features on the government’s list of priorities. In addition, the uncertainty accompanying Brexit has essentially paused government from making any domestic decisions.
  2. There has been a shift to champion the use of quality products for social housing homes following the tragic Grenfell disaster. Rightly so, but this will require larger budgets in a climate of ever-squeezed funds. In a wider effort to build “social equality and dignity”, Sadiq Khan has also proposed a ban to “poor doors” where affordable housing tenants have a separate entrance to a mixed tenure private development, and lesser materials used on their furnishings.
  3. There is a shortage of skilled contractors and builders, which is no surprise given the number of players (council, housing associations, private developers) fishing in the same pool of resources. This shortage is only going to be exacerbated following Brexit. Over the past few years with the influx of skilled European workers we have not invested the time and money into home-grown talent and as a result there will inevitably be a deficit following Brexit.
  4. The various housing sector stakeholders are aligned that they need to lead the way on climate change measures through increasing solar panels and eliminating gas usage in homes. However, they noted that from a cost perspective, social housing and sustainability are incompatible. Cross subsidy schemes are required to meet housing targets and as a result climate change measures have at times taken a back seat.

Civic Engagement

  1. Civic engagement is the key to ensuring the success of any regeneration project. Currently regeneration is a word that can put residents and business owners on edge as they fear they are going to be stripped of homes and businesses. A large effort needs to go into reframing this within communities through conversations rather than consultations. Councils and developers need to be having open and transparent conversations with residents and communities to gain their trust and ensure that the project is viable and mutually beneficial. In addition, residents need to be given the power to approve or reject any regeneration planning via a ballot.
  2. Royal Borough of Kingston upon Thames (RBK) have empowered young adults living on an estate that is to be regenerated to play a key role in the design and decision-making process [1][2]. Given that the projects proposed would take 10–15 years to complete, these individuals are able to make a difference to the design of their future homes. RBK found that these young adults had wonderfully insightful ideas, having lived on the estate all their lives, and were able to build trusting relationships with the residents. An example of how two-way open communication can cultivate great value.

Despite the increasing number of challenges faced, the hosts and panellists ensured that Londoners’ needs were kept at the forefront of each discussion. A passion to retain an ethnically and economically diverse community in London was apparent, through the creation of more affordable homes this year than in the 30 years prior.

Having started my day off apprehensive, I left feeling inspired by those fighting for individuals on housing waiting lists, in run down social housing, and for a diverse London. I was so grateful to hear the hopes and concerns of the housing sector, to hear the Mayor of London’s plans, and left feeling excited to start my placement with the housing and regeneration team at the London Borough of Ealing.

[1] Cambridge Road Estate website

[2] Cambridge Road Estate key facts flyer

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