When I was a young boy in the 1970s, my family lived in council housing in Ladbroke Grove, and London was in decline.
The depressed mood about London was reflected in the price of housing: the average property cost just £24,000. Mind you, the average income was only £6,000.
The prospect of our family owning a home was a distant dream, but that was before Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister. She offered council tenants the right to buy, a policy that expanded the dream of home ownership.
But those days, and dreams, are over.
Today’s high cost of housing and rent makes London a grind. In my early twenties, I had to sofa-surf with friends and family to get by – something I did for nearly five years.
While running my charity, I chased cheap rents all around London.
My wife and I eventually bought our very modest home in Romford. We count every penny, and our mortgage still gives us nightmares.
For generations, our city has failed to build enough homes, and the problem is getting worse, not better.
Since 2000, London has added over two million people, but has built fewer than 400,000 properties. Add in the surge of foreign money into our housing stock, plus more people living on their own, and you have an expensive – and exclusionary – mix.
The only way out of our current mess is to build, but politicians have promised to do that for years. While some have done better than others, every single one of them has failed to meet London’s actual needs.
We need to find a better way to build, because the current system that relies on private builders is completely broken.
Fortunately, Britain’s history is littered with bursts of frenetic house building; think of the Macmillan era. All we need to do is follow the example that he set.
For London, that means pulling the house building pipeline under the mayor’s control, and using the mayor’s powers to build the homes that the capital needs – not the ones that pad out the private builders’ bottom lines.
That’s why, as mayor, I will create Housing for London (HfL), a City Hall-controlled house builder that will deliver affordable and family homes. HfL will do the job that the private sector has failed at for generations.
And I will start on day one, because the powers to deliver HfL already exist. The mayor can appoint an advisory body to identify housing sites across London and create partnerships with the boroughs to develop these sites.
City Hall has the money to build after central government gave it £4.82bn – half of all affordable home building money in the country.
The mayor has to show leadership and knit these powers together to control the building process from start to finish.
As a fierce believer in capitalism, creating a government body is not a step I take lightly. But as a Conservative, I believe in doing what works.
What worked in the past is when government has grabbed housing by the scruff of the neck.
Now is no different. I am tired of the blame-shifting and blown targets from the current mayor, and I am willing to carry the burden of building.
Because the way that we build homes must change. The private sector needs a competitor that is driven by delivery, not shareholder profit. It is the only way to unblock the bottlenecks and fix a system that’s been broken for generations.
Fixing London’s housing is the challenge of our generation. And it’s a responsibility that I won’t duck. London won’t truly be open until we can accommodate those who live here and those who want to come here. Right now, the capital’s cost of living is crowding them out.
I will do better – not with empty promises and made-up figures, but with a concrete plan to deliver the result that we need.
Main image credit: Getty