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Families come in all shapes and sizes. But all of them have one thing in common: they need a place to live. A place to grow, play, sleep and study. To do all the things that make families the bedrock of our society and the finest social institution that we have for progress, prosperity and social mobility.

Yet so often the debate about housing, both in London and elsewhere, is simply a numbers game: one hundred units here, 2,000 units there. Yet in our rush to increase overall numbers of homes – important though that is – we fail to pay enough attention to the types of homes we are building, and who they are for.

By default, the planning system tends to be skewed towards smaller housing units of one or two bedrooms. These are easier and cheaper for developers to build and will often provide the greatest return. They also help the bureaucratic numbercrunchers in public authorities demonstrate the maximum number of units being built towards their ever-increasing targets.

By contrast, the three- and fourbedroom homes that are suitable for families are generally much harder to get through the system. Even more so when those in authority actively seek to discourage them, such as in London with Mayor Sadiq Khan.

Mayor Khan has set a target to build 65,000 homes a year through his new development plan, called the London Plan. He has also been given £4.8 billion by central government to build 116,000 affordable homes. Yet his policies are failing to support larger family homes and do everything possible to reduce the size of new homes. His housing strategy has abolished targets for affordable family homes, set by his predecessor, which means that there is no incentive for public housing funds to be invested in family-sized homes, nor for developers to deliver them.

Meanwhile, the London Plan actively encourages the demolition of existing family homes and their redevelopment as blocks of small flats, through an invidious policy called ‘Small Sites’, and even setting targets for local authorities to approve such schemes.

But the real kick in the teeth is an obscure document called the Strategic Housing Market Assessment, which states that 55% of all new homes in London should have just one bedroom, and for social housing this goes up to 69%.

Prior to Sadiq Khan’s election in 2016, the number of family homes built in London had been steadily increasing, reaching 25% of all new homes. Now, this trend is going into reverse as a result of the Mayor’s policies. Last year the number of affordable homes of three bedrooms or more, funded by the Mayor, dropped by 30%.

All this flies in the face of the significant housing challenges facing London, particularly overcrowding. The latest figures show that 360,000 children in London live in overcrowded homes. This is simply a scandal for any major city. Overcrowding can have a serious impact on health and wellbeing, especially for children. It can spread diseases more quickly, lead to sleep disturbance and cause additional stress and strain. Hence, family housing should not just be seen as a luxury but as an urgent priority.

Back in 2011, I led a major review for the London Assembly called ‘Crowded Houses.’ Through this review we found that building a single family home could solve the problems of several households at the same time, due to the ‘churn’ effect of freeing up other homes further down the line. Not only would this approach help to tackle the scourge of overcrowding, it would have a transformative effect on the whole housing market, spreading home ownership more widely and across all generations. It means more homes available for younger first-time buyers, those with growing families, and older people who are perhaps looking to downsize.

Family houses also have the advantage of being more popular with local communities, and are therefore likely to have an easier and quicker path through the planning system, compared to blocks of smaller flats.

So how can we get more family homes built? To start with, housing policies need to be less about bean counting and more about common sense. If a development has a higher level of family-sized homes, even if it means fewer homes overall, that should be seen as a positive outcome rather than a negative one.

Where public funds are used for affordable housing, funding needs to be specifically targeted towards an appropriate number of family-sized homes. More can also be done to encourage downsizing through dedicated housing schemes, freeing up family homes that have become underused.

And policymakers should pro-actively identify land that would be suitable for family homes, backed up by supportive planning policies. They could also make land available to families to self-build their own homes, cutting costs and getting homes built more quickly in the process.

If we truly want to be on the side of aspiration, prosperity and home ownership, and solve our biggest housing challenges in the process, a good place to start is through family-friendly homes.

Andrew Boff AM is the Deputy Chair of the Housing Committee in the Greater London Assembly. This article first appeared in our Centre Write magazine On the home front. Views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue.