Squat to own – Sadiq Khan must think bigger to solve the housing crisis

In his campaign for London mayor, Sadiq Khan stated repeatedly that his greatest challenge would be the housing crisis. What we have experienced instead is a disappointing dearth in the mix of tactics to confront property speculation and skyrocketing rents.

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Previous generations responded to their own housing crises with massive social housing projects, housing benefit, rent control, cooperatives – and squatting. Already back-tracking on slightly more radical policies such as rent control, Khan’s central initiative has been Homes for Londoners, a private-public partnership to encourage investment in additional housing capacity. But, while Khan has criticised investors for regarding residential assets in London as “gold bricks for investment,” his own policies in fact capitulate to the speculative property market by offering “affordable homes” as just another investment brand.

Khan recently stated that he would be friendly with business as mayor of London.  Yet, as a public official, his remit extends beyond the narrow interests of business toward those of the wider community.  If his rapport with the market is to surrender to its logic, Khan will merely perpetuate the root cause of the housing crisis.  In line with the neo-liberal mantra, the “free market” is not meant to efficiently allocate housing as a social need, but to generate revenues and maintain property values.

The housing crisis, in this way, would seem to be a matter of perspective.  For landlords and investors, there is in fact no crisis at all, but record profits and expanding opportunities for investment.  The crisis exists only for end-users, housing consumers in a seller’s market – where supply is maintained in artificial scarcity.  Bound by this logic, Khan’s Homes for Londoners will provide little incentive for a shift in investment behaviour – and will therefore not solve the housing crisis.

A credible housing strategy – indeed, a housing revolution – must deploy a mix of tactics and must transform the logic of housing provision through public investment, regulation, and cooperatives.  Yet, as we have seen, Khan has not challenged the pre-eminence of the market – even though in housing allocation, it has so clearly failed. In the face of the contradiction between property as a residential asset and housing as a social necessity, Khan must challenge the market by expanding his range of options to deliver on his promises to London.

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