Plan to convert unsold houses in to homes for affordable rent will need government cash, says deputy mayor

A taskforce set up by London’s new deputy mayor for housing to tackle the coronavirus crisis is set to call for funding and flexibility from government to convert unsold houses and flats into affordable homes for rent.

Tom Copley GLA_9199

The Covid-19 Housing Delivery Taskforce was set up in April by Tom Copley, appointed as London mayor Sadiq Khan’s housing deputy in January, and is set to report interim findings in the next two weeks.

Copley (pictured, left, with Sadiq Khan) told Housing Today that the taskforce was likely to recommend the government give the Great London Authority greater flexibility on how it spends existing housing grant and land funding, in order to de-risk private and housing association development in the event of a coronavirus-inspired economic downturn.

However, Copley said the taskforce is also set to call on the government for more funding to support the housebuilding sector in the capital, in particular by paying to convert unsold homes into rental properties for those in housing need.

He said paying to flip homes from sale to rent was “exactly the kind of thing we’re exploring” and would be “really welcomed by the sector”.

He said: “If there’s a recession and a downturn in demand for private housing, then if we can come in and flip that housing over to social rent or other genuinely affordable forms of housing that creates multiple benefits. Not least because if we have a recession, we can be sure that demand for affordable housing is only going to increase.”

The GLA under Sadiq Khan mayoralty has consistently argued for more money from government to pay for more affordable housing, with the body last year releasing a report arguing that the current £4.8bn six-year affordable housing programme be increased six-fold.

Copley said the current crisis meant additional investment in housing will be necessary to help the post-lockdown economic recovery. “At a time like this, public funding can play a really key role in keeping the sector going, and ensuring that we can play a key role in the economic recovery of the country as we come out the other side,” he said.

Muswell Hill London housing shutterstock_285984602

Copley’s taskforce includes local authority, housing association and union leaders, as well as representatives of housebuilding and construction industry bodies, with an expert panel sitting beneath it. Estate agent Savills estimated that work on around 28,000 homes under construction was put on hold in the capital when the lockdown was announced

Copley, whose appointment this year followed a stint as chair of the London Assembly’s housing committee, said he was focused on building more “genuinely affordable” homes and getting councils building at scale again. While he praised housing associations, he said the sector’s reliance on cross-subsidy from the private sale of homes had become “unhealthy”, and was now, given the likely economic downturn, “extremely challenging”.

The GLA last week reported that work was started on a “record” 17,256 affordable homes in the year to March 2020, a figure which included 3,300 council homes, the most since 1985, and 7,156 homes at the much cheaper “social rent” level.

However, critics pointed to the fact that for the third year running less than half as many homes were completed as begun.

For the full interview with Copley, see here