London In the dark days of neo-liberalism when cities and states are embracing private developers to impact their profound public responsibilities to provide decent and adequate housing for families regardless of income the whole notion of so-called “affordable” housing seems to have been left in the rubbish at the construction site. Where recently we thought perhaps the inclusionary zoning type standard for new developments in London requiring 20% of the units be “affordable” might be preferable to some similar initiatives in the United States, on closer inspection it’s a mirage.
Simply put the various borough councils in London have decoupled rent from income in this new doublespeak of “affordable” housing. Twenty percent of the units must be classified as “affordable,” but that means the rent in those units is discounted so that tenants are only paying 80% of the market rate. In the overheated, gentrified housing market in London that means two things. One that your rent will keep rising, squeezing you out later, rather than soon, if you happened to be in such housing, and, second, that you’re a long way from poor and lower income when you qualified, since in some of these units you would have to be making big money to be able to afford the so-called “affordable” housing.
The Conservative government and its austerity program has put a gun to the council’s heads, but they have also in most cases swallowed the bullets like candy, and continue to sell off council or public housing willy-nilly in various schemes that deplete the housing stock and squeeze the lower income families to other boroughs and out of the city completely. The Guardian reports:
Last year, even the Conservative Westminster council warned London mayor Boris Johnson that plans to set new rent levels at up to 80% of market rent would require council tenants in a three-bedroom home in the borough to have an annual income of £109,000 in order to be considered affordable. The council estimated that half its social rented households receive an annual income of less than £12,000 a year.
In New York City, the easiest comparable big city to compare to London, inclusionary zoning is voluntary, though Mayor de Blasio is clear that he has his sights on changing that to mandatory, and the rents are targeted to family income, which is good, but there just aren’t enough of them. Hard to say that’s a whole lot better. The families that literally win the lottery and get to live with the rich are still few and far between. And, New York is still an exception since despite some progress in San Francisco, Santa Fe, and a couple of more, inclusionary zoning, pushed by housing advocates, has never been able to trump the dreams and dollars of developers in city halls across the country. That much seems true on both sides of the water. The other startling truth is the crisis in affordable housing and the needs of families for decent and affordable housing are simply not being heard or met.