Happy Valentine’s Day, renters! Your housing rights suck

Oh, god. Image: Getty.

The chief executive of Shelter on the charity’s latest research.

For many millennials there are few things less romantic to consider on Valentine’s Day than a lifetime of expensive renting. 

 It shouldn’t be this way, of course – but for far too many people, our private rented sector represents an unstable, insecure and expensive way to live. 

Our research out today shows that 39 per cent of millennial private renters (aged 25 – 34) are putting off having a child or growing their family because they are currently renting.   

That is a genuinely heart-breaking figure, because for many couples they have no choice. Home ownership is fast-becoming a pipe dream for most young people. House prices are as sky high. Even for those lucky enough to have saved a deposit, many can't even get on the housing ladder with Help to Buy.  

This wouldn’t be a problem if our private rented sector were fit for families to live in, as it is across much of Europe today. But renting in England is just not up to scratch. 

We have some of the shortest, least secure contracts. We found that private tenants have stronger legal power to choose whether to stay or leave their home in the majority of the European countries we studied in 2016. 

This situation leaves some private renters with little security to plan ahead in life. If you’re a young couple thinking about having kids, it’s understandable that you’d put this massive life decision off if you didn’t know how much you’d be paying in rent nine months from now.  

Beyond this chronic lack of stability, private renters often just don’t have they rights they need stick up for themselves if they are having problems with their landlord and feel they are being treated unfairly. This should really be a bare minimum in this country: the right to feel safe and secure in your home shouldn’t be seen as some kind of luxury.  

Lastly, but most importantly, renting is just far too expensive for many people. Renters spend more on average than home owners on their housing cost.  

In London, on average renters spend more than half of their income on rent. 


For some people this means they can’t save for a deposit to buy a home and escape this situation. But for those at the very sharp end of the situation, it can mean homelessness as they find themselves squeezed out of their rented home and with nowhere else to go.  In fact, losing your tenancy and not being able to find a new one is the main driver of homelessness in the UK.  

With all of these serious issues piling up, it’s not hard to see why renters often don’t feel the government are on their side. We have to get on and fix this. After all, the number of renters is rising so the government can’t shy away from the problem. The ban on letting fees was very welcome – but that has to be the first of a series of fixes to our renting crisis, not the last.  

Here’s what we need to do. Firstly, we need to give private renters much stronger rights so they can feel empowered to fight their landlord if they have to.  

Secondly, renters should be given the option of longer tenancies as a norm so they don’t have to hop between homes, incurring the costs as they go. Instead, they can feel assured that their rented home is theirs for years, not months.    

And we need to build tens of thousands more genuinely affordable homes to rent. Our housebuilding system has been stuck in second gear for decades now – and has focused on delivering more expensive homes rather than the genuinely affordable ones we really need.  

If we’re going to give people somewhere to live and make renting fit for families, these ideas really have to become a reality soon.

Polly Neate is chief executive of Shelter.

 
 
 
 

Vanilla Skybus: George Romero and Pittsburgh’s metro to nowhere

A prototype Skybus on display near Pittsburgh. Image: BongWarrior/Wikimedia Commons.

The late director George A Romero’s films are mainly known for their zombies, an association stretching from his first film, 1968’s Night of the Living Dead, to his last as director, 2009’s Survival of the Dead.

But many of them are also a record of Pittsburgh, the city he lived and worked in, and other locations in the state of Pennsylvania in the late 20th century. Martin (1978), for example, isn’t just a movie about a kid who thinks he’s a vampire: it’s a moving portrayal of the post-industrial decay of the Pittsburgh borough of Braddock.

Though born in New York, Romero studied in Pittsburgh and stayed in the city after graduation, shooting commercials as part of the successful Latent Image agency. It was in collaboration with advertising colleagues that he shot his debut Night of the Living Dead. On both that movie and subsequent films, Romero and his colleagues used their experience and connections from the agency to secure cheap and striking locations around the city and state. 

It’s in Romero’s little-seen second film, 1971’s romantic drama There’s Always Vanilla, that a crucial scene touches on a dead end in the history of urban transport in Steel City.

In the scene Vietnam vet Chris, only recently returned to town after a failed music career, sees his father off on a train platform, after an evening where Chris got his dad stoned and set him up with a stripper. (It was the early 1970s, remember.) An odd little two-carriage metro train pulls up on an elevated concrete platform, Chris’ father rides away on it, and then Chris literally bumps into Lynn, whom he then both gaslights and negs. (It was the ‘70s.) You can see the scene here.

A screenshot from There's Always Vanilla, showing the Skybus through a chain link fence.

If you don’t live in Pittsburgh, you might assume that funny little train, still futuristic forty years on, is just an everyday way of getting around in the exciting New World. Who knows what amazing technology they have over there, right?

In fact, the Transit Expressway Revenue Line, more snappily referred to as the Skybus, not only doesn’t exist today: it hardly existed at all, beyond what we see in that short scene. In the 1960s there were plans to replace Pittsburgh’s street car system with a more up to date urban transit system. The Skybus – driverless, running on rubber tires on an elevated concrete track with power provided with an under rail system – drew enough support from the Port Authority and Federal Government for them to fund a short demonstration track at the Allegheny County Fair, at that point a local institution.

It’s this demonstration track and train that appears in There’s Always Vanilla. Film makers love isolated systems like this, or the UK’s many heritage railways, because they allow for multiple takes and a controlled environment. So it made sense for Romero to use this local curio rather than seek access to an in-use station.


The sequence in Vanilla shows that the Skybus system worked, and as a potential metro system it looks quite striking to this day with its curved windows and distinctive logo. But the proposed system wasn’t popular with everyone, and cost concerns and political wrangling stalled the project – until it was finally rejected in favour of a more conventional steel wheel on steel rail transit system.

The demonstration track was pulled up in 1980, although the small station and platform seen in the movie remains: Romero expert Lawrence Devincentz narrates a photo tour of the building on the blu ray of There’s Always Vanilla.

Vanilla was renamed and barely seen on release, but is now available as part of a boxset of Romero’s early works from Arrow Video, in ridiculously pristine 2K digital transfer. The Skybus is there too, a curio of Pittsburgh history caught on a few short minutes of film. Neglected back then, both seem considerably more interesting now.

‘There’s Always Vanilla’ is available on blu ray as part of Arrow’s ‘George A. Romero: Between Night and Dawn’ box set, and will receive a standalone release later this year.

Mark Clapham used to work in rail regulation, but now writes things like this. He tweets as @markclapham.