Middle aged renters are struggling with dodgy landlords too – and their numbers are growing

Home sweet home. Image: Getty.

There are now more than 4.5m households living in the private rented sector across the UK – that’s more than doubled since the previous decade. The challenges of navigating this expensive and insecure housing market have fallen mainly on young people. In 2017, 35 per cent of renters in the private sector were aged between 25 and 34.

Much attention has been given to the plight of millennials – aka “generation rent” – who research indicates are much less likely to own their own home than previous generations. Yet the number of older renters is also increasing – and much less is known about their experiences.

That’s why, as part of recent research for the UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence, my colleagues and I investigated the experiences of older private renters – aged 35 to 54 years – from different parts of the UK, as they aim to find a decent home.

Shared experiences

Many of our research participants recounted their experiences of shared accommodation, forced moves, poor landlord practices and periods of homelessness. Many of their stories echoed those of “generation rent”; from reports of unaffordable rents, insecurity and poor quality housing, to difficulties in putting down roots and making a home.

Our research emphasised that these experiences are not restricted to young people. In fact, they are more common among low-income renters than any particular age group.

Even in middle-age, some of the tenants we spoke to still relied on the “bank of mum and dad”. Family support was vital in allowing them to pay their rent or save for a mortgage deposit. Some needed a relative to act as a guarantor on their rental contract. But not everyone has this resource to draw on, nor do they always want to ask their family for help.

Young people experiencing difficult living conditions often think that things will get better. By contrast, our research found that middle-aged renters had much less hope for the future. Some felt embarrassed and experienced a sense of “failure” because they could not realise their dream of home ownership.

Others had now aged themselves out of a mortgage. Lenders can be reluctant to approve loans that extend beyond retirement age when incomes drop. This is challenging for low-income households in particular, who - without the cushion of a private pension – may be unable to cover the repayments once retired.

Like younger renters in previous studies, the middle-aged renters we spoke to were frustrated at paying “someone else’s mortgage” – not least because it limited their ability to transform their own situation.

For some, the only way they could manage their budgets was to choose less desirable properties (often in poorer condition), which had lower rents, or to share with others. As other research has noted, such financial pressure can have negative effects on people’s mental health and well-being.


A different story

Older renters also face some different issues to their younger counterparts. Parents worried about how forced and unplanned moves would disrupt their children’s friendships and schooling. Being able to personalise a property and keep pets are also vital to making children feel settled and secure, yet not all landlords allow this.

Indeed, some landlords would not even allow children to live at their properties. Other parents (typically divorced dads) found themselves in shared accommodation that was not always appropriate for children to visit or stay in.

The practice of house sharing and renting a single room in a property is becoming more widespread. While for younger adults it has often been understood as a lifestyle choice, for the older renters in our study it was driven by economic constraint: they simply could not afford to live on their own.

Older age can also bring poor health, which may not be as prevalent among younger people. Yet the sector is not geared up to deal with the extra needs of ageing bodies. One participant who had a long-term health issue, described the challenges of sharing when mobility aids are needed and flatmates are not always understanding.

While there may be an opportunity for more socially minded private landlords to provide the support these tenants need, research suggests they are few and far between.

A deepening crisis?

The UK’s growing population of older private renters face distinct challenges, which could worsen the nation’s housing crisis. Accessing social housing remains challenging, while home ownership remains out of reach for many. Welfare reform, such as the housing benefit freeze, has excluded low-income renters from all but the cheapest properties.

Tenants of all ages want safe, secure and affordable homes. But without government action, that aspiration will remain unfulfilled. Reform of the private rented sector is important and is beginning to happen in different ways, in different parts of the UK. But legislation can only go so far.

Tenants must be made aware of their rights through public education campaigns. The government must fund local authorities to adequately resource enforcement action and tackle rogue landlords.

But above all else, the private rented sector must not be seen in isolation. To fix the broken housing market, there must be continued investment in affordable housing, and this must be matched by a political will to tackle the wider inequalities that are the root cause of poor housing.

The Conversation

Kim McKee, Senior Lecturer, Social Policy and Housing, University of Stirling.

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

 
 
 
 

Green roofs improve cities – so why don’t all buildings have them?

The green roof at the Kennedy Centre, Washington DC. Image: Getty.

Rooftops covered with grass, vegetable gardens and lush foliage are now a common sight in many cities around the world. More and more private companies and city authorities are investing in green roofs, drawn to their wide-ranging benefits which include savings on energy costs, mitigating the risk from floods, creating habitats for urban wildlife, tackling air pollution and urban heat and even producing food.

A recent report in the UK suggested that the green roof market there is expanding at a rate of 17 per cent each year. The world’s largest rooftop farm will open in Paris in 2020, superseding similar schemes in New York City and Chicago. Stuttgart, in Germany, is thought of as “the green roof capital of Europe”, while Singapore is even installing green roofs on buses.

These increasingly radical urban designs can help cities adapt to the monumental challenges they face, such as access to resources and a lack of green space due to development. But buy-in from city authorities, businesses and other institutions is crucial to ensuring their success – as is research investigating different options to suit the variety of rooftop spaces found in cities.

A growing trend

The UK is relatively new to developing green roofs, and governments and institutions are playing a major role in spreading the practice. London is home to much of the UK’s green roof market, mainly due to forward-thinking policies such as the 2008 London Plan, which paved the way to more than double the area of green roofs in the capital.

Although London has led the way, there are now “living labs” at the Universities of Sheffield and Salford which are helping to establish the precedent elsewhere. The IGNITION project – led by the Greater Manchester Combined Authority – involves the development of a living lab at the University of Salford, with the aim of uncovering ways to convince developers and investors to adopt green roofs.

Ongoing research is showcasing how green roofs can integrate with living walls and sustainable drainage systems on the ground, such as street trees, to better manage water and make the built environment more sustainable.

Research is also demonstrating the social value of green roofs. Doctors are increasingly prescribing time spent gardening outdoors for patients dealiong with anxiety and depression. And research has found that access to even the most basic green spaces can provide a better quality of life for dementia sufferers and help prevent obesity.

An edible roof at Fenway Park, stadium of the Boston Red Sox. Image: Michael Hardman/author provided.

In North America, green roofs have become mainstream, with a wide array of expansive, accessible and food-producing roofs installed in buildings. Again, city leaders and authorities have helped push the movement forward – only recently, San Francisco created a policy requiring new buildings to have green roofs. Toronto has policies dating from the 1990s, encouraging the development of urban farms on rooftops.

These countries also benefit from having newer buildings, which make it easier to install green roofs. Being able to store and distribute water right across the rooftop is crucial to maintaining the plants on any green roof – especially on “edible roofs” which farm fruit and vegetables. And it’s much easier to create this capacity in newer buildings, which can typically hold greater weight, than retro-fit old ones. Having a stronger roof also makes it easier to grow a greater variety of plants, since the soil can be deeper.


The new normal?

For green roofs to become the norm for new developments, there needs to be buy-in from public authorities and private actors. Those responsible for maintaining buildings may have to acquire new skills, such as landscaping, and in some cases volunteers may be needed to help out. Other considerations include installing drainage paths, meeting health and safety requirements and perhaps allowing access for the public, as well as planning restrictions and disruption from regular ativities in and around the buildings during installation.

To convince investors and developers that installing green roofs is worthwhile, economic arguments are still the most important. The term “natural capital” has been developed to explain the economic value of nature; for example, measuring the money saved by installing natural solutions to protect against flood damage, adapt to climate change or help people lead healthier and happier lives.

As the expertise about green roofs grows, official standards have been developed to ensure that they are designed, built and maintained properly, and function well. Improvements in the science and technology underpinning green roof development have also led to new variations on the concept.

For example, “blue roofs” increase the capacity of buildings to hold water over longer periods of time, rather than drain away quickly – crucial in times of heavier rainfall. There are also combinations of green roofs with solar panels, and “brown roofs” which are wilder in nature and maximise biodiversity.

If the trend continues, it could create new jobs and a more vibrant and sustainable local food economy – alongside many other benefits. There are still barriers to overcome, but the evidence so far indicates that green roofs have the potential to transform cities and help them function sustainably long into the future. The success stories need to be studied and replicated elsewhere, to make green, blue, brown and food-producing roofs the norm in cities around the world.

Michael Hardman, Senior Lecturer in Urban Geography, University of Salford and Nick Davies, Research Fellow, University of Salford.

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