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.

 
 
 
 

Britain’s housing policy must “ditch its relentless numbers game”

Some houses. Image: Getty.

Britain must build more homes – that much is certain. But a relentless focus on how many means we have lost all focus on the types of homes we must be building. This means we risk repeating the mistakes of previous decades, building homes entirely unfit for future generations.

This is the stark conclusion of a new report from Demos, Future Homes. Analysing the trends we expect to be shaping Britain in the future, we find our current approach to housebuilding has not kept pace with these changes. Indeed, we found that one third of the public don’t think new homes will be fit for purpose in thirty years’ time. Putting this right demands a revolution in our approach to housebuilding.

First, new homes must be fit for multigenerational living. This living arrangement is already on the rise: after decades of decline, average household size is rising, in part due to an increase in the number of multigenerational households. But housing design has not kept pace with these changes: our research found that two thirds of the public do not think new homes are not fit for multigenerational living.

We do not bemoan the rise in multigenerational households – quite the opposite. In a time of social isolation, multigenerational living may help to reduce loneliness amongst the elderly, helping them to stay integrated in society and play an active role in family life. More social contact between the young and old could also reduce the scope for intergenerational conflict, fostering mutual understanding between different generations.

Multigenerational housing may also help ease care burdens at both ends of life, making it simpler to look after the elderly, while allowing relatives to more easily help with childcare. It could also reduce the under-occupation of housing by the elderly, freeing homes at the top of the housing ladder. It is no exaggeration to say that in a time of increasing social and political division, building more multigenerational housing could help bring Britain back together – a first step on the path to a more connected society.

That’s why we call on the government to enshrine a commitment to multigenerational housing in its new Future Homes standard. Multigenerational households should also be entitled to council tax discounts and permitted development rights introduced for “granny annexes”, ensuring current housing stock can be made fit for multigenerational living.


We also need to build much more environmentally friendly homes whilst improving the state of our dilapidated housing stock. With the government aiming for net zero carbon emissions by 2050, this will require a radical change to housebuilding – especially when home energy efficiency has not improved since 2015.

To address this we call on the government to reintroduce the zero carbon homes standard and to launch a Green Homes Fund backed by a new, state-backed Green Development Bank. This would allow the government to make ultra-low interest rate loans to fund energy efficiency home improvements, as is widely and successfully done in Germany.

We must also begin to prioritise the creation of green space and gardens when building homes. This isn’t just what the public wants – we found gardens are the most important feature when choosing a home after location – but is good for our health too. Studies show that those living close to green space are more likely to exercise regularly – vital if we are to tackle today’s obesity crisis. That’s why our report calls for the government to introduce a new “green space standard” for all new homes, eventually giving all residents the right to a garden.

We recognise our proposals could increase the cost of housebuilding, potentially raising property prices – a great concern given the state of Britain’s overheated housing market. However, we believe our proposals can be justified for two reasons.

First, much of the recent explosion in property prices derives from land price increases, not construction costs. Therefore, if our changes were introduced alongside sensible policies to bring down land prices, such as a land value tax, their impact on cost would be limited. Second, even if there are additional costs today, the cost of pulling down new homes in just a few decades would be enormous. This has to be avoided.

Homes can be so much more than a roof over our heads, helping us respond to the great challenges of our time – loneliness, climate change, the crisis of care. But this can only happen if Britain ditches its relentless numbers game on housing and begins to care about the types of home we build, not just the number.

Ben Glover is a senior researcher at Demos.