Sadiq Khan’s new London Plan has set out ambitious housing reforms. But can he deliver?

A rather fetching image from the cover of the London Plan. Image: Greater London Authority.

The draft London Plan released by Sadiq Khan this week expresses his determination to meet London’s housing need in full, without infringing on the Green Belt. The commitment may seem obvious, but it is nonetheless ambitious – and it brings a rebalancing of the geography of development towards outer London, a shift away from Boris Johnson’s strategy.

The new plan is now out to public consultation this week. Since 2000, the London Plan has been the mayor of London’s principal instrument to shape the city’s change, allowing them to influence both the location and the kind of development that will take place. The mayor estimates that the capital will need an additional 660,000 homes this decade – an assessment consistent with that commissioned by City Hall in 2014, which projected a ten-year need of “at least” 620,000 homes.

However, there is a marked difference in the scale of ambition of the two most recent versions of this document. In his last plan, Boris Johnson found space for 420,000 homes, 200,000 short of his estimated housing need, and chose to monitor the boroughs against this target. This week’s draft Plan identified capacity – and set targets – for 650,000 homes in London over the next decade.

Click to expand.

Sceptics argue that this target, like its predecessors, will not be met – the new target is, after all, more than twice the number of homes completed the last ten years. Yet it is remarkable to see where this additional capacity was identified: in outer London, thanks to policies that the mayor believes will enable boroughs to achieve their targets.

The plan allows denser development in places with transport capacity – and argues that many of those are in outer London. Indeed, Crossrail and Thameslink are about to unlock significant development potential in outer boroughs, which the mayor hopes to realise by allowing higher densities near stations and encouraging building on small sites. Scrapping maximum densities may stir opposition, but these were not respected anyway, and the mayor plans to offset taller buildings with new guidelines promoting design quality and affordable housing provision.

If the plan becomes reality, many outer London boroughs are set for a pace of housebuilding that they have not experienced in their 50-year history. The new plan requires them to accommodate 58 per cent London’s new build (against 41 per cent in the current plan).


Most outer boroughs will see their housing targets double, and some nearly triple. On the other hand, most central London boroughs can expect their targets to decrease, perhaps because a lot of capacity has already been delivered. A third group of boroughs, in east London, will continue to make a very large contribution to the city’s growth.

Rebalancing development towards more suburban areas may not have been the mayor’s first choice, but his commitment not to build outwards probably constrained his options. He will also have to allow building upwards in the city’s opportunity areas to accommodate growth, whether those sit in inner or outer London.

The London Plan will take time to digest. It is a long document, and is only entering its consultation phase; it will then be examined at public hearings by a planning inspector next autumn, with the final draft published in 2019. In the upcoming local election campaigns, these housing targets may be hot topics for debate.

But whether the mayor can temper London’s spiralling cost of living by expanding housing supply will depend on developers’ and landowners’ appetite to pursue those opportunities opened up in outer London.

Nicolas Bosetti is a senior researcher at the Centre for London. He tweets as @nicolasbosetti.

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Urgently needed: Timely, more detailed standardized data on US evictions

Graffiti asking for rent forgiveness is seen on a wall on La Brea Ave amid the Covid-19 pandemic in Los Angeles, California. (Valerie Macon/AFP via Getty Images)

Last week the Eviction Lab, a team of eviction and housing policy researchers at Princeton University, released a new dashboard that provides timely, city-level US eviction data for use in monitoring eviction spikes and other trends as Covid restrictions ease. 

In 2018, Eviction Lab released the first national database of evictions in the US. The nationwide data are granular, going down to the level of a few city blocks in some places, but lagged by several years, so their use is more geared toward understanding the scope of the problem across the US, rather than making timely decisions to help city residents now. 

Eviction Lab’s new Eviction Tracking System, however, provides weekly updates on evictions by city and compares them to baseline data from past years. The researchers hope that the timeliness of this new data will allow for quicker action in the event that the US begins to see a wave of evictions once Covid eviction moratoriums are phased out.

But, due to a lack of standardization in eviction filings across the US, the Eviction Tracking System is currently available for only 11 cities, leaving many more places facing a high risk of eviction spikes out of the loop.

Each city included in the Eviction Tracking System shows rolling weekly and monthly eviction filing counts. A percent change is calculated by comparing current eviction filings to baseline eviction filings for a quick look at whether a city might be experiencing an uptick.

Timely US eviction data for a handful of cities is now available from the Eviction Lab. (Courtesy Eviction Lab)

The tracking system also provides a more detailed report on each city’s Covid eviction moratorium efforts and more granular geographic and demographic information on the city’s evictions.

Click to the above image to see a city-level eviction map, in this case for Pittsburgh. (Courtesy Eviction Lab)

As part of their Covid Resource, the Eviction Lab together with Columbia Law School professor Emily Benfer also compiled a scorecard for each US state that ranks Covid-related tenant protection measures. A total of 15 of the 50 US states plus Washington DC received a score of zero because those states provided little if any protections.

CityMetric talked with Peter Hepburn, an assistant professor at Rutgers who just finished a two-year postdoc at the Eviction Lab, and Jeff Reichman, principal at the data science research firm January Advisors, about the struggles involved in collecting and analysing eviction data across the US.

Perhaps the most notable hurdle both researchers addressed is that there’s no standardized reporting of evictions across jurisdictions. Most evictions are reported to county-level governments, however what “reporting” means differs among and even within each county. 

In Texas, evictions go through the Justice of the Peace Courts. In Virginia they’re processed by General District Courts. Judges in Milwaukee are sealing more eviction case documents that come through their courtroom. In Austin, Pittsburgh and Richmond, eviction addresses aren’t available online but ZIP codes are. In Denver you have to pay about $7 to access a single eviction filing. In Alabama*, it’s $10 per eviction filing. 

Once the filings are acquired, the next barrier is normalizing them. While some jurisdictions share reporting systems, many have different fields and formats. Some are digital, but many are images of text or handwritten documents that require optical character recognition programs and natural language processors in order to translate them into data. That, or the filings would have to be processed by hand. 

“There's not enough interns in the world to do that work,” says Hepburn.


Aggregating data from all of these sources and normalizing them requires knowledge of the nuances in each jurisdiction. “It would be nice if, for every region, we were looking for the exact same things,” says Reichman. “Instead, depending on the vendor that they use, and depending on how the data is made available, it's a puzzle for each one.”

In December of 2019, US Senators Michael Bennet of Colorado and Rob Portman of Ohio introduced a bill that would set up state and local grants aimed at reducing low-income evictions. Included in the bill is a measure to enhance data collection. Hepburn is hopeful that the bill could one day mean an easier job for those trying to analyse eviction data.

That said, Hepburn and Reichman caution against the public release of granular eviction data. 

“In a lot of cases, what this gets used for is for tenant screening services,” says Hepburn. “There are companies that go and collect these data and make them available to landlords to try to check and see if their potential tenants have been previously evicted, or even just filed against for eviction, without any sort of judgement.”

According to research by Eviction Lab principal Matthew Desmond and Tracey Shollenberger, who is now vice president of science at Harvard’s Center for Policing Equity, residents who have been evicted or even just filed against for eviction often have a much harder time finding equal-quality housing in the future. That coupled with evidence that evictions affect minority populations at disproportionate rates can lead to widening racial and economic gaps in neighborhoods.

While opening up raw data on evictions to the public would not be the best option, making timely, granular data available to researchers and government officials can improve the system’s ability to respond to potential eviction crises.

Data on current and historical evictions can help city officials spot trends in who is getting evicted and who is doing the evicting. It can help inform new housing policy and reform old housing policies that may put more vulnerable citizens at undue risk.

Hepburn says that the Eviction Lab is currently working, in part with the ACLU, on research that shows the extent to which Black renters are disproportionately affected by the eviction crisis.

More broadly, says Hepburn, better data can help provide some oversight for a system which is largely unregulated.

“It's the Wild West, right? There's no right to representation. Defendants have no right to counsel. They're on their own here,” says Hepburn. “I mean, this is people losing their homes, and they're being processed in bulk very quickly by the system that has very little oversight, and that we know very little about.”

A 2018 report by the Philadelphia Mayor’s Taskforce on Eviction Prevention and Response found that of Philadelphia’s 22,500 eviction cases in 2016, tenants had legal representation in only 9% of them.

Included in Hepburn’s eviction data wishlist is an additional ask, something that is rarely included in any of the filings that the Eviction Lab and January Advisors have been poring over for years. He wants to know the relationship between money owed and monthly rent.

“At the individual level, if you were found to owe $1,500, was that on an apartment that's $1,500 a month? Or was it an apartment that's $500 a month? Because that makes a big difference in the story you're telling about the nature of the crisis, right? If you're letting somebody get three months behind that's different than evicting them immediately once they fall behind,” Hepburn says.

Now that the Eviction Tracking System has been out for a week, Hepburn says one of the next steps is to start reaching out to state and local governments to see if they can garner interest in the project. While he’s not ready to name any names just yet, he says that they’re already involved in talks with some interested parties.

*Correction: This story initially misidentified a jurisdiction that charges $10 to access an eviction filing. It is the state of Alabama, not the city of Atlanta. Also, at the time of publication, Peter Hepburn was an assistant professor at Rutgers, not an associate professor.

Alexandra Kanik is a data reporter at CityMetric.