NLA’s latest research explores the resurgence taking place in the provision of new public housing in London. Extensive research together with contributions from industry experts has been combined with a project showcase in order to fully demonstrate the current picture of public housing.
After the Housing Act of Margaret Thatcher’s government in 1980, housebuilding by local authorities ground to a halt, only to be revived by the government of Gordon Brown in 2007 and further encouraged by reform of the Housing Revenue Account (HRA) in 2011. New delivery vehicles, the lifting of the HRA borrowing cap in 2018 and funding by the Mayor of London mean that boroughs are starting to deliver more housing than at any time in the last 40 years.
To many, public housing embodies the visible support and intervention of the state when the private sector cannot ensure good-quality, affordable homes for people on low incomes - households who cannot afford to rent from a private landlord or to buy their own home. But in line with massive economic, social and political shifts, there is now much greater awareness that priced-out working households should be prioritised for subsidised housing alongside those in the greatest need. The provision of public housing that is of high quality, suitably located and affordable has therefore become a barometer of London’s health and success as an economically and socially sustainable city.
Today, the urgency of the capital’s housing crisis has stimulated rejuvenated ambitions, so that for the first time since the 1960s and 1970s many London councils have been building new homes. In recent years, many London boroughs have been setting up their own local development companies, with the aim of accelerating the delivery of new homes; more than half have already done so.
Other councils have focused on a different direct delivery approach, sometimes as a result of political decisions. Yet, even with more resources at their disposal, councils still need to work together with private developers and housing associations in order to provide the number of new, high- quality and affordable homes desperately needed.
With the Mayor’s commitment to accommodating London’s growth within its existing boundaries, densification and intensification are essential considerations for boroughs in order to meet housing targets. But in many London boroughs there is also a renewed sense of civic purpose: a return to a more holistic approach that recognises how local authorities have a responsibility not just to provide services and duty of care to their residents, but also high-quality, pleasant and affordable places to live and to work - places that can also support the sustainable growth of the capital.
The need to renew decades-old public housing and to build new homes directly affects thousands of Londoners, however, politicians and the industry are now recognising that success can be achieved only by putting residents at the heart of the process. Working closely with residents at all stages - and beyond, for maintenance and management- does not just mean solving immediate local issues; done well, it can also generate wider advocacy. The challenge of demanding housing targets requires more central government funding and streamlined methods of procurement, but quality -in engaging and empowering communities, in design, in delivery and management, and in every other aspect - must be the priority running through public housing projects from start to finish.
An accompanying free exhibition will be open to the public in the NLA galleries from May until July 2019 and during this time events will take place to further explore key themes.