How can London fix its housing crisis_ _ Dave Hill _ Opinion _ The Guardian apply for housing benefit

We londoners have long bored for britain about bricks and mortar, but our preoccupation now reflects a state of emergency – a crisis enveloping more and more of the city’s people and changing its neighbourhoods for the worse.

It is a crisis with several causes but linked effects: the price of buying a home is soaring, the number for social rent is falling and an expensive, often perilous, private rented sector is expanding into the gap. The impacts are extending across london’s broad social spectrum as an inflated property market excludes more of the middle class and government policies fail in their own terms and make bad situations worse.

Recent narratives have singled out foreign speculators and the politics of social cleansing. Both have force but are too pat.

Big money from abroad, seeking sanctuary and fat returns, has added to the mismatch between the supply of new homes and the ability of even quite affluent londoners to buy them; the case for taxing speculators is well made.How can i apply for housing benefit yet this prime central phenomenon doesn’t explain everything and curbing it wouldn’t fix everything either. And talk of social cleansing can be cheap: the dilemmas faced by cash-strapped boroughs in making the best of what they have and getting the most out of regeneration deals while struggling to accommodate residents in desperate need, are of no interest to those who scream it loudest.

Fixing london’s housing problems will require realism, boldness, big policy shifts, new types of money, serious political will and, guiding everything, clear ideas and principles about what makes a city work well as a place to live.

London’s population is booming – driven by birth rate, not inward migration – and london councils, the body representing the capital’s local authorities, calculates that it will need more than 100,000 new homes every year from now until 2021 to meet existing shortfalls and future demand.How can i apply for housing benefit everyone agrees that far more homes need to be built in the capital and there’s a substantial consensus about how.

The london finance commission, set up by boris johnson, wants london to retain the stamp duty raised there for more spending on homes. It is a measure of the crisis that even johnson, who rails against attempts to tame speculators, also supports – at least on paper – other recommendations of the commission, such as central government giving boroughs more freedom to borrow to build council homes and taking measures to shift public spending away from benefits into housing that people can afford without needing to depend on them. Johnson also favours a use-it-or-lose sanction against land banking, whereby developers sit on sites and watch their value rise without building so much as a garden shed on them – territory he (rather squeamishly) shares with ed miliband.How can i apply for housing benefit

London councils endorses all of the above but also some more contentious moves. It argues for a build now pay later approach to help bring surplus public land into use for homes – which might encourage a better private rented sector to evolve – and supports sustainable suburban development on land around underground and rail stations in the green belt. Some analysts would go further, arguing that much of the rest of the green belt isn’t very green and should be built on. Others think london needs to build upwards rather than outwards, avoiding adding to suburban sprawl. Perhaps it will have to do both.

The sharpest political divisions form around the balance between laissez-faire and intervention in increasing the supply of homes. Mayor johnson, utterly orthodox in these things, subscribes to the tory old-time religion.How can i apply for housing benefit he also fully backs the coalition’s benefit reforms and affordable rent policy, both of which are malfunctioning wildly. His collaboration with allies on the worst of london’s large regeneration schemes reveals the tory ideology at work at national as well as london government levels.

Labour, the lib dems and greens all think differently, wanting regulation, intervention and the right types of public investment to ensure that the full range of housing demand is met rather than depending on fostering off-plan sales to absentee investors and therefore further warping an already chronically unbalanced market. That’s where a tax on speculators might come in, along with hikes on council tax for second homes: if such measures didn’t deter, at least the public pocket would gain.

But opposition parties have to think hard too.How can i apply for housing benefit labour southwark, often barracked over social housing and regeneration, actually has the largest council house-building programme in the city. But does its leader talk the prevailing regeneration talk too comfortably? That said, what is the best solution for social housing that’s in a state of disrepair? Demolition means the destruction of more than just buildings. Any alternative approach should look seriously at devolving more power to manage and even own estates to their residents – a true localism by contrast with the tory sham.

None of this stuff is easy: there are balances to be struck, compromises to be worked out and competing needs to be reconciled. But the large task of making a bigger london better means accommodating its majority, those on low and middle incomes alike, more securely and affordably.How can i apply for housing benefit your wise thoughts on ways forward are welcome.