Here are five changes to improve housing better for generation rent

Oh good, here we are again. Image: Getty.

Research by the Resolution Foundation has confirmed what many young people already sensed; that for them, the private rented sector in Britain is less a stepping stone, and more of a trap. The research predicts that up to a third of millennials will live in private rented housing from the day they’re born, until the day they die.

Many aspire to own their own home, pay off the mortgage and have an asset against which they can leverage the support they may need in their old age, or pass on to their children. But this traditional dream is becoming increasingly distant, as more of the UK’s housing stock is owned by organisations or landlords with multiple properties.

What went wrong?

Home ownership is increasingly the preserve of those with wealth, or older people who bought at a time when housing was cheaper. Some of the wealthy don’t just own their own home, but also others, which they collect the rent on to buy more properties.

While owner occupation, as a proportion of market share, has not changed dramatically, very recently (it has been around 62 per cent for a couple of years) the private rented sector has grown at the expense of the social housing sector.

Social housing – that’s homes owned by local councils or housing associations, rented out at significantly less than the market rate – has become rarer. And there’s more so-called “affordable” housing – usually a set proportion of up to 80 per cent of the market rate – which in many cases just isn’t affordable for those on lower incomes.

In continental Europe – especially countries such as Sweden – there is a different approach. The level of owner occupation is much lower, while the private rented sector is better quality, more affordable and more secure for renters.

What could work?

There are plenty of policies which could improve the situation for “generation rent”:

  • Cap rents in the private rented sector and regulate landlords, so that properties must meet quality standards; this is the case in countries such as Sweden, but the differences between markets means comparisons are nuanced and complex.
  • Reform tenancy law and enforce better protection for tenants against “rogue” landlords. There are stories about landlords undertaking “revenge” evictions against tenants who have complained. There are examples of poor or no repairs, hazardous and unhealthy conditions to live in, but the legal redress for tenants is slow, costly and limited.

  • Invest government money to build more social housing, and keep it in public ownership for those who can’t access the private market. At the moment, “personal subsidies” do not provide long-term assets of bricks and mortar, but instead go into into welfare payments which, through rental payments, can ultimately boost profits for private landlords.

  • Disrupt the flow of public housing into private hands by halting the Right to Buy, which allows eligible social housing tenants to buy their home with a discount of up to £108,000 (£80,900 outside London). The Local Government Association refers to a “firesale” of social housing, with over 55,000 homes sold under RTB in the last six years.

  • Put more housing into the hands of communities by establishing co-operatives and community land trusts (CLTs), which have the power to decouple housing cost from market value, and link rent cost to earnings, with the uplift in value retained by the community co-operative – not wealthy private individuals. There are over 200 examples of small scale urban and rural schemes in England - such as East London CLT – learning from embedded projects, such as Champlain Housing Trust in Vermont, US. The relaunched Community Housing Fund will go some way to boosting activity here.


Why things won’t change tomorrow

The UK can’t just set out tomorrow and become Sweden by placing more stringent regulations on rent levels, tenancy security and quality of housing. The UK’s political and economic systems are materially different, and this manifests in the flavour of its housing markets.

In his 1995 book, Jim Kemeny highlighted how, in England, the housing private market is protected from competition through the suppression of social renting. Neo-liberal policies which promoted private commercial interests over social ones were the bedrock of this paradox, and this remains the case now more than ever.

Pendulum politics, resulting from our democratic process, means short-termism is the only political game in town. Reforming the housing market, fixing the private rented sector and building more genuinely affordable housing need a longer term approach.

Then there are voter dynamics to consider: for example, Right To Buy appeals to people already in the social housing sector who wish to own. The policy is often leveraged at election time. But it benefits the few, rather than the many, and it disproportionately disadvantages young people who are in the private rented sector and cannot benefit from Right To Buy.

Older people, those who own their own homes, or wish to buy their council or housing association home, are more likely to engage with the current democratic system and vote. Until more and more young people use their ballot card, their voices will be marginalised.

The ConversationThere are too many vested interests in the political system to maintain the status quo. The people who can change the system – British MPs – have too much to lose. Just over 120 MPs – that’s almost one in five - declared on the register of interests that they rent out one or more homes or private properties. There is too much at stake for them to seek more regulation and fewer profits – turkeys won’t vote for Christmas.

Jo Richardson, Professor of Housing and Social Research, De Montfort University.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

 
 
 
 

A new wave of remote workers could bring lasting change to pricey rental markets

There’s a wide world of speculation about the long-lasting changes to real estate caused by the coronavirus. (Valery Hache/AFP via Getty Images)

When the coronavirus spread around the world this spring, government-issued stay-at-home orders essentially forced a global social experiment on remote work.

Perhaps not surprisingly, people who are able to work from home generally like doing so. A recent survey from iOmetrics and Global Workplace Analytics on the work-from-home experience found that 68% of the 2,865 responses said they were “very successful working from home”, 76% want to continue working from home at least one day a week, and 16% don’t want to return to the office at all.

It’s not just employees who’ve gained this appreciation for remote work – several companies are acknowledging benefits from it as well. On 11 June, the workplace chat company Slack joined the growing number of companies that will allow employees to work from home even after the pandemic. “Most employees will have the option to work remotely on a permanent basis if they choose,” Slack said in a public statement, “and we will begin to increasingly hire employees who are permanently remote.”

This type of declaration has been echoing through workspaces since Twitter made its announcement on 12 May, particularly in the tech sector. Since then, companies including Coinbase, Square, Shopify, and Upwork have taken the same steps.


Remote work is much more accessible to white and higher-wage workers in tech, finance, and business services sectors, according to the Economic Policy Institute, and the concentration of these jobs in some major cities has contributed to ballooning housing costs in those markets. Much of the workforce that can work remotely is also more able to afford moving than those on lower incomes working in the hospitality or retail sectors. If they choose not to report back to HQ in San Francisco or New York City, for example, that could potentially have an effect on the white-hot rental and real estate markets in those and other cities.

Data from Zumper, an online apartment rental platform, suggests that some of the priciest rental markets in the US have already started to soften. In June, rent prices for San Francisco’s one- and two-bedroom apartments dropped more than 9% compared to one year before, according to the company’s monthly rent report. The figures were similar in nearby Silicon Valley hotspots of San Jose, Mountain View, Palo Alto.

Six of the 10 highest-rent cities in the US posted year-over-year declines, including New York City, Los Angeles, and Seattle. At the same time, rents increased in some cheaper cities that aren’t far from expensive ones: “In our top markets, while Boston and San Francisco rents were on the decline, Providence and Sacramento prices were both up around 5% last month,” Zumper reports.

In San Francisco, some property owners have begun offering a month or more of free rent to attract new tenants, KQED reports, and an April survey from the San Francisco Apartment Association showed 16% of rental housing providers had residents break a lease or unexpectedly give a 30-day notice to vacate.

It’s still too early to say how much of this movement can be attributed to remote work, layoffs or pay cuts, but some who see this time as an opportunity to move are taking it.

Jay Streets, who owns a two-unit house in San Francisco, says he recently had tenants give notice and move to Kentucky this spring.

“He worked for Google, she worked for another tech company,” Streets says. “When Covid happened, they were on vacation in Palm Springs and they didn’t come back.”

The couple kept the lease on their $4,500 two-bedroom apartment until Google announced its employees would be working from home for the rest of the year, at which point they officially moved out. “They couldn’t justify paying rent on an apartment they didn’t need,” Streets says.

When he re-listed the apartment in May for the same price, the requests poured in. “Overwhelmingly, everyone that came to look at it were all in the situation where they were now working from home,” he says. “They were all in one-bedrooms and they all wanted an extra bedroom because they were all working from home.”

In early June, Yessika Patapoff and her husband moved from San Francisco’s Lower Haight neighbourhood to Tiburon, a charming town north of the city. Patapoff is an attorney who’s been unemployed since before Covid-19 hit, and her husband is working from home. She says her husband’s employer has been flexible about working from home, but it is not currently a permanent situation. While they’re paying a similar price for housing, they now have more space, and no plans to move back.

“My husband and I were already growing tired of the city before Covid,” Patapoff says.

Similar stories emerged in the UK, where real estate markets almost completely stopped for 50 days during lockdown, causing a rush of demand when it reopened. “Enquiry activity has been extraordinary,” Damian Gray, head of Knight Frank’s Oxford office told World Property Journal. “I've never been contacted by so many people that want to live outside London."

Several estate agencies in London have reported a rush for properties since the market opened back up, particularly for more spacious properties with outdoor space. However, Mansion Global noted this is likely due to pent up demand from 50 days of almost complete real estate shutdown, so it’s hard to tell whether that trend will continue.

There’s a wide world of speculation about the long-lasting changes to real estate caused by the coronavirus, but many industry experts say there will indeed be change.

In May, The New York Times reported that three of New York City’s largest commercial tenants — Barclays, JP Morgan Chase and Morgan Stanley — have hinted that many of their employees likely won’t be returning to the office at the level they were pre-Covid.

Until workers are able to safely return to offices, it’s impossible to tell exactly how much office space will stay vacant post-pandemic. On one hand, businesses could require more space to account for physical distancing; on the other hand, they could embrace remote working permanently, or find some middle ground that brings fewer people into the office on a daily basis.

“It’s tough to say anything to the office market because most people are not back working in their office yet,” says Robert Knakal, chairman of JLL Capital Markets. “There will be changes in the office market and there will likely be changes in the residential market as well in terms of how buildings are maintained, constructed, [and] designed.”

Those who do return to the office may find a reversal of recent design trends that favoured open, airy layouts with desks clustered tightly together. “The space per employee likely to go up would counterbalance the folks who are no longer coming into the office,” Knakal says.

There has been some discussion of using newly vacant office space for residential needs, and while that’s appealing to housing advocates in cities that sorely need more housing, Bill Rudin, CEO of Rudin Management Company, recently told Spectrum News that the conversion process may be too difficult to be practical.

"I don’t know the amount of buildings out there that could be adapted," he said. "It’s very complicated and expensive.

While there’s been tumult in San Francisco’s rental scene, housing developers appear to still be moving forward with their plans, says Dan Sider, director of executive programs at the SF Planning Department.

“Despite the doom and gloom that we all read about daily, our office continues to see interest from the development community – particularly larger, more established developers – in both moving ahead with existing applications and in submitting new applications for large projects,” he says.

How demand for those projects might change and what it might do to improve affordable housing is still unknown, though “demand will recover,” Sider predicts.

Johanna Flashman is a freelance writer based in Oakland, California.