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.

 
 
 
 

Self-driving cars may be safe – but they could still prevent walkable, liveable communities

A self-driving car, driving itself. Image: Grendelkhan/Flickr/creative commons.

Almost exactly a decade ago, I was cycling in a bike lane when a car hit me from behind. Luckily, I suffered only a couple bruised ribs and some road rash. But ever since, I have felt my pulse rise when I hear a car coming up behind my bike.

As self-driving cars roll out, they’re already being billed as making me – and millions of American cyclists, pedestrians and vehicle passengers – safer.

As a driver and a cyclist, I initially welcomed the idea of self-driving cars that could detect nearby people and be programmed not to hit them, making the streets safer for everyone. Autonomous vehicles also seemed to provide attractive ways to use roads more efficiently and reduce the need for parking in our communities. People are certainly talking about how self-driving cars could help build more sustainable, livable, walkable and bikable communities.

But as an urban planner and transportation scholar who, like most people in my field, has paid close attention to the discussion around driverless cars, I have come to understand that autonomous vehicles will not complement modern urban planning goals of building people-centered communities. In fact, I think they’re mutually exclusive: we can have a world of safe, efficient, driverless cars, or we can have a world where people can walk, bike and take transit in high-quality, human-scaled communities.

Changing humans’ behavior

These days, with human-driven cars all over the place, I choose my riding routes and behavior carefully: I much prefer to ride on low-speed traffic, low-traffic roads, buffered bike lanes or off-street bike paths whenever possible, even if it means going substantially out of my way. That’s because I’m scared of what a human driver – through error, ignorance, inattention or even malice – might do to me on tougher roads.

But in a hypothetical future in which all cars are autonomous, maybe I’ll make different choices? So long as I’m confident self-driving cars will at least try to avoid killing me on my bike, I’ll take the most direct route to my destination, on roads that I consider much too dangerous to ride on today. I won’t need to worry about drivers because the technology will protect me.

Driverless cars will level the playing field: I’ll finally be able to ride where I am comfortable in a lane, rather than in the gutter – and pedal at a comfortable speed for myself rather than racing to keep up with, or get out of the way of, other riders or vehicles. I can even see riding with my kids on roads, instead of driving somewhere safe to ride like a park. (Of course, this is all still assuming driverless cars will eventually figure out how to avoid killing cyclists.)

To bikers and people interested in vibrant communities, this sounds great. I’m sure I won’t be the only cyclist who makes these choices. But that actually becomes a problem.

The tragedy of the commons

In the midsize midwestern college town I call home, estimates suggest about 4,000 people commute by bike. That might not sound like many, but consider the traffic backups that would result if even just a few hundred cyclists went out at rush hour and rode at leisurely speeds on the half-dozen arterial roads in my city.

Technology optimists might suggest that driverless cars will be able to pass cyclists more safely and efficiently. They might also be directed to use other roads that are less clogged, though that carries its own risks.

But what happens if it’s a lovely spring afternoon and all those 4,000 bike commuters are riding, in addition to a few thousand kids and teenagers running, riding or skating down my local roads? Some might even try to disrupt the flow of traffic by walking back and forth in the road or even just standing and texting, confident the cars will not hit them. It’s easy to see how good driverless cars will enable people to enjoy those previously terrifying streets, but it also demonstrates that safety for people and efficiency for cars can’t happen at the same time.


People versus cars

It’s not hard to imagine a situation where driverless cars can’t get anywhere efficiently – except late at night or early in the morning. That’s the sort of problem policy scholars enjoy working on, trying to engineer ways for people and technology to get along better.


One proposed solution would put cars and bicycles on different areas of the streets, or transform certain streets into “autonomous only” thoroughfares. But I question the logic of undertaking massive road-building projects when many cities today struggle to afford basic maintenance of their existing streets.

An alternative could be to simply make new rules governing how people should behave around autonomous vehicles. Similar rules exist already: Bikes aren’t allowed on most freeways, and jaywalking is illegal across most of the U.S.

Regulating people instead of cars would be cheaper than designing and building new streets. It would also help work around some of the technical problems of teaching driverless cars to avoid every possible danger – or even just learning to recognize bicycles in the first place.

However, telling people what they can and can’t do in the streets raises a key problem. In vibrant communities, roads are public property, which everyone can use for transportation, of course – but also for commerce, civil discourse and even civil disobedience. Most of the U.S., however, appears to have implicitly decided that streets are primarily for moving cars quickly from one place to another.

There might be an argument for driverless cars in rural areas, or for intercity travel, but in cities, if driverless cars merely replace human-driven vehicles, then communities won’t change much, or they may become even more car-dependent. If people choose to prioritise road safety over all other factors, that will shift how people use roads, sidewalks and other public ways. But then autonomous vehicles will never be particularly efficient or convenient.

The Conversation

Daniel Piatkowski, Assistant Professor of Community and Regional Planning, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.