Sadiq Khan has decided to built his entire mayoral campaign on rent controls. I’m not exaggerating for effect: he has declared the upcoming London mayoral contest to be a veritable “referendum on rent controls”. I was wondering whether to vote vote Rory Stewart or Sadiq Khan in May – Sadiq has thankfully made it easy for me to go Rory now.
There are three main reasons why I don’t like Sadiq building his campaign on rent controls. The first is that rent controls themselves are a bad idea. There are a lot of reasons why they don’t work as intended; I will only cover the most obvious. While it helps many of those already renting, it has a negative impact on those who wish to get into the rental market over time. It inflates the market outside of those under rent control making properties within the rent controlled purlieu gold dust, meaning no one moves unless they absolutely have to. This creates a logjam for those looking to rent, with younger renters unable to find anywhere to live, particularly as less people rent out properties as it becomes less lucrative to do so. Landlords also have way less incentive to do upkeep, since they can’t get market rate for a better looking property. The rental housing stock depreciates, both in terms of quality and quantity.
The second reason I don’t appreciate the sitting mayor making the upcoming plebiscite a referendum on rent controls is that Khan has argued against them in the past and I don’t appreciate the hypocrisy. The third and final reason I’m not up for this is that imposing rent controls across London avoids the real solution to the housing problem in the city, which is to build more housing in London, something which should be easy to do given the extreme value of the land combined with more than enough brown-field areas to use. But there is a reason that’s a tricky road for Khan to take: left-wing London NIMBYism.
I have seen this first-hand. I live in Camberwell-Peckham borders and I have watched the neighbours I have who are most like me – people who have bought the freeholds on their property at market rate, meaning they are well-off, as opposed to those renting from the council – argue against any and all development of new housing. The most common argument they give is that new developments will “destroy community cohesion”. The second is that the current brown-field sites should be used to “create jobs”, in other words, that we should have, I don’t know, a factory or something there. When it is pointed out that people need more places to live, they say that the new developments “don’t contain enough social housing”, even if that isn’t the case, technically speaking. Also, if the new developments don’t have enough social or affordable housing within them by your estimation, why not argue that point? Why not organise petitions to get more social housing built – instead of arguing against any development happening whatsoever?
My hunch is that this type of metropolitan, left-wing NIMBYism – these are all Labour voting types, if not Green – is done not really because those involved are worried about how much social housing stock we have, or the cohesion of communities they actually live in yet talk about as if they were somewhere hundreds of miles away, but because they don’t want a lot of noisy building works going on nearby, all to create housing that will lessen their views of the nearby park while possibly hurting the value of their own property. And here’s the thing about NIMBYism: I don’t mind it so long as it is done in an honest, straightforward way. People are completely allowed to argue for their own interests. Just don’t dress it up as caring about the poor; as if what you’re doing is some sort of righteous giving back when in fact you’re being selfish.
I get that Khan doesn’t want to take that on – to face down NIMBYism within his own side. He’s being a lot like the NIMBYs I live amongst – acting in his own self-interest while dressing it up as standing up for the poor and helpless. And that’s why I won’t be voting for Sadiq Khan for mayor this time round.