Coronavirus key workers could be bumped to the top of the list for cheaper rentals and shared ownership homes under plans drawn up by the Mayor of London.
Sadiq Khan wants nurses, police officers and teachers to be first in line for affordable homes in the capital.
But London Conservatives have accused the Mayor of “fiddling while Rome burns” by ignoring “London’s biggest social crisis” – overcrowding.
Growing evidence suggests overcrowding can increase the spread of coronavirus and the Mayor has acknowledged that there is “clearly a link” in London.
But Mr Khan’s current consultation does not focus on social rents – the cheapest housing, and most likely to be overcrowded.
As well as these heavily discounted rentals, which target the worst off Londoners, City Hall backs two other kinds of affordable housing:
- London Living Rent, which cannot be more than a third of average incomes in the area and is available for households with an income up to £60,000.
- Shared ownership to help private renters get onto the property ladder by buying part of their home, which is available for households with an income up to £90,000.
Government funding is particularly focused on making home ownership more affordable – though the Mayor favours social rents, which benefit London’s worst-off residents.
Mr Khan is now consulting on the future of these intermediate affordable options – living rent and shared ownership – ahead of a new funding plan for affordable housing due later this year.
The consultation will aim to set a London-wide list of key workers who should be prioritised.
In the past, councils have drawn up their own criteria – and though boroughs could add to the centralised list it would provide a city wide standard.
Royal College of Nursing (RCN) London director Lisa Elliott said nurses are “being left behind” in the city.
“Nursing pay has not kept pace with the cost of living in the capital,” she explained.
In an RCN survey earlier this year, 80% of nurses who had left London said it was because of housing costs.
The Mayor said Londoners will want to reward “the key workers who keep London running even during a time of crisis”.
“Housing costs have driven far too many Londoners away from our great city, robbing us of their skills and expertise,” he said.
“Intermediate housing, alongside much-needed homes for social rent, can play a vital role in turning that tide.
“By helping people buy or rent a home below the market rate we encourage them to put down roots, become part of a community and help London thrive.”
But Conservative London Assembly member Andrew Boff, the group’s housing lead, said the consultation was “enormously disappointing”.
He accused the Mayor of failing to tackle overcrowding, which has been thrown into sharp relief by the coronavirus outbreak.
Almost a quarter of London’s children – some 360,000 – are growing up in overcrowded homes, according to City Hall analysis of the English Housing Survey.
Mr Boff said lack of space has a devastating impact on children, hitting “their health, their education and their life chances”.
Overcrowding is also “one of the prime reasons for high transmission of Covid-19,” he said.
Mr Boff said there are not enough family-sized homes being built in the capital.
“This is a crisis in London and has been for many years – but this Mayor refuses to accept responsibility,” he said.
He said the Mayor must also be clearer about what he means by a key worker – something that could come from the consultation process.
The Conservative spokesman supports key worker housing – having been born in dedicated housing for police officers himself – but has reservations.
“I hate to say this but what about those ordinary Londoners who are also looking for accommodation,” he explained.
“A key worker is also someone who pays taxes and provides for those public services.
“It’s a way of distracting everyone from the main failure this Mayor has of not building enough homes.
“Unless we address the supply of homes in London they will continue to be an inaccessible dream for many young Londoners.”
Mr Khan has called for £5 billion a year to build affordable homes – but Mr Boff said the Mayor already has record funding from Government.
“The Mayor is incapable of admitting to any limitations,” he said. “In order to do that he blames the Government.
“Why would the Government give more money to a Mayor who can’t seem to spend the money he’s already got.”