#UnaffordableLondon: Meet Our Panelists

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As the London Metropolitan University Unaffordable London event takes place, meet those that helped to create the interesting new debate…

Andrew Boff:

Boff

Conservative member of the GLA Housing Committee and leader of the Conservative group at City Hall.

Elected as Conservative member of the London Assembly in 2008, Boff lives in Barking. He’s been a Councillor in his hometown of Hillingdon (1982-1994) and Hackney (2005-2006), where the 57-year-old helped run the Saturday market, as well as publish a local magazine. Boff also ran his own IT support company.

Boff headed an investigation into housing overcrowding while on the Assembly. He also published reports on violence against sex workers, housing on the Olympic site, and end of life care.

The solution to the housing crisis, according to Boff, is to provide more housing. He advocates encouraging small developers and self-builders to construct new homes. “Small developers and say to them: build on the land, by all means, and only give us the money for it when you resell. That starts to open up, that starts to make a freer market and to insure there are more and more people wanting to provide housing.”

Until two and half years ago, Boff rented a property in Hackney, but he said he had to move because the rent was so expensive. “I hate the term affordable housing because it is subjective as to whether or not you can afford it,” he said. “I had to move and buy somewhere less fashionable in Hackney because that is the only way I could afford it.”

Housing is an issue that affects everyone, Boff said. Building pop-up homes to construct new housing quickly and at a much lower cost could help tackle the current housing crisis. “It is very easy to address one group’s issues, but the housing issues in London are across all groups,” he said.

The cost of student housing might be prohibitive, but studying in London is neither a privilege nor a right, he adds. “It’s a choice that you make when you decide that you want to study in London and weigh up all the pros and cons of studying in London.”

By Laura Ann Formby and Hasti Razaghi


 Dr. Kristian Niemietz:

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Dr. Kristian Niemietz joined the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA) in 2008 as Poverty Research Fellow, becoming its Senior Research Fellow in 2013 and Head of Health and Welfare in 2015.

Niemietz is also a Fellow of the Age Endeavour Fellowship.

He studied Economics at the Humboldt University of Berlin, graduating in 2007. During his studies, he interned at the Central Bank of Bolivia, the National Statistics Office of Paraguay, and at the IEA. In 2013, he completed a PhD in Political Economy at King’s College London. Niemietz previously worked as a Research Fellow at the Berlin-based Institute for Free Enterprise (IUF), and at King’s College London, where he taught Economics throughout his postgraduate studies. He is a regular contributor to various journals in the UK, Germany and Switzerland.

In three words he would describe himself as a ‘free market fundamentalist’. When Niemietz thinks of London housing, he describes the problems as “supply constraints, overpriced and political stupidity”.

During the press conference, Niemietz explained that there is a standard measure of affordability which is the median multiple- that is the average house price divided by the average income. He said: “The normal value for median multiples in most developed countries used to be between 2 and 3 salaries… We are now at a measure of 5 [in the UK]- as you go further towards the South East, 6, 7, 8 become the norm [salaries per household].”

Dr Niemietz believes there are many solutions to the London housing crisis. He would like to see a free market in housing and suggests abolishing the London Green Belt and all other green belts.

He describes it as “an extreme restriction on the supply of land that totally destroys the competitive land market”. The economist says that ‘’it doesn’t achieve all of the things that people project into it.”

In his spare time, he likes to go to the gym and when the weather allows it, he enjoys picnics on Putney Heath with his ‘missus’. He admits he is also a big fan of real ale and is a member of CAMRA, a campaign for real ale.

By Patrick Kelly-Burton and Leanne Carr


 Sian Berry:

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Siân Berry is the current Green Party Candidate for the 2016 London Mayoral Election, she previously came 4th in the 2008 election.

She’s the only Green councillor in Camden Council, her current residence, where she founded the Alliance against Urban 4x4s in 2003. She’s been actively involved in campaigns such as Iraq war, Genetically modified food and air quality problems.

Berry completely agrees that the student housing costs are absolutely ludicrous, and as Mayor she would want that figure to be defined every year. She also wants to support student campaigns to get more out of their accommodation. In addition she would help fund Betsy Dillner (Director of Generation Rent) to run a renters’ union which would help renters stand up for themselves and get the quality of home they deserve. She would work with local councils to bring mandatory support to stop people living in damp horrible conditions.

As a renter in London herself she is very passionate about the issue. Despite having good jobs her whole life, she said: “I probably couldn’t afford the land in London in a million years”.

One of the main issues she brought up was the lack of basic, affordable student accommodation.

Almost nothing was available below £110 per week. There was only three or four per cent`at an affordable level. The average rent in London at the moment is £226 which makes it impossible for a student to survive on. Berry said: “You can’t be making studying in London only an exclusive thing, we need to be able to provide places for Londoners to be able to live and the talented people from throughout the country… We can’t be putting people off with the basiscs of housing costs.”

 By Rohma Ejaz, Ellie Jones and Sylvia Cerisara


 

Betsy Dillner :

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Thirty-something Betsy Dillner from Portland, Oregon, a self-proclaimed feminist banshee, is director of Generation Rent, a national campaigning group.  

She is campaigning for security, affordability and decent standards for those living in private housing. After joining the group in 2014 as the community campaign manager, she was appointed director in 2015.

Before settling in the UK, the US native had an extensive resume with issues surrounding housing.

She started in New York as a community organiser, working with the ‘Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now’ from 2006 to 2007.

She organized local protests against the selling of affordable housing and successfully halted a $1.3 billion legislation that would have taken subsidies away from the tenants.

Later, Dillner moved to the UK to study for an MA in Community Organizing at Queen Mary’s University. She lived like any other student. “I lived in far East London because it was cheap for my student income and I also had a dog and very few landlords actually allow a dog,” Dillner says. “He was a fantastic landlord. I had a fantastic experience.”

She is now working to bring in a ten-year tenancy agreement for the private rental sector so the tenants can feel stable and protected.

“We would like to see the private renting sector to be taken seriously as a place where people are going to stay for a while, so that means landlords understanding their responsibilities and the government keeping them accountable.”

As for the future, she says she would also like to explore the options for rent stabilisation and rent control so people could actually have enough of their income to live a decent life.

By Terje Vaher and Wendy Abiri


 

Tom Copley:

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Labour GLA member and chair of the Housing Committee.

Tom Copley, 30, studied at Bishop Wordsworth School in Salisbury, before getting a degree in Politics at the University of Nottingham. In May 2012, he was elected to the London Assembly as a London-wide List member.

Housing has been one of his key issues, in particular the provision of more council houses. “What we need to be doing is freeing up local authorities to be building more council houses, not stripping away what’s already there,” he said.

Copley has challenged Boris Johnson over housing issues in London and he proposed the introduction of the German model of rent regulation.  “We need some sort of rent regulation. Sometimes people talk about rent control as if it’s only one thing, a universally bad thing. There are many different types of rent control as there are cities in Europe.”

London is becoming increasingly more unaffordable for everybody, especially students, Copley said. His theory was that fewer students from poorer backgrounds won’t be studying and living in London, whereas students from a privileged background have the choice to live in London.

“This is a tragedy for London itself, we want people from all different backgrounds to be able to come and live and study and work here,” said Copley, who rents a flat in Kentish Town.  “In a few years’ time, London may well be a boring city.”

Housing in London affects everyone, but especially students, said Copley, adding that everyone should be able to study in London but if  “you can’t afford to come here, your choices are being limited by a personal circumstance”.

Copley also fights against racism and extremism. Before joining the Assembly, he worked for the anti-fascist, anti-racist charity Searchlight Educational Trust.

By Shannon Eades and Cara Curtis

 

All Images Credit: Michaela Nagyidaiova and Laura Mendes

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