Swindon’s housing crisis mirrors the national situation which is why SHAC is being launched on Thursday 18 February, writes Martin Wicks.
There is a shortage of council housing, the gulf between house prices and earnings is increasing, and the rapidly growing growing private rented sector (PRS) is dominated by ‘buy to let’ landlords, short-term contracts, high rents and much poor quality housing.
Over the last year Swindon Council officers have come across between 10 to 15 cases of people renting garages to live in. Why would somebody live in a garage? Probably because of a combination of poverty and the shortage of genuinely affordable homes for rent in the PRS. Landlords are taking advantage of the shortage to drive up rents.
The increase in numbers of temporary jobs, zero hours contracts, insecure employment and bogus ‘self-employment’, means that more and more people struggle to afford higher PRS rents.
With xouncil homes being sold off under ‘right to buy’ and not replaced, the situation will only get worse. The government is introducing a Housing Bill which will force councils to sell off ‘high value’ homes when they become vacant, the receipts for which will be handed over to Housing Associations (the difference between the sale price and the market value) to pay for the extension of ‘right to buy’ in that sector .
Many of the homes sold eventually end up in the hands of ‘buy to let’ landlords. If the tenants are on Housing Benefit (HB) it costs more to the state than HB for council housing with its lower rents. Yet the government is encouraging the growth of the private sector and promoting a decline in the number of Council and Housing Association homes with ‘social rent’.
The government is introducing a subsidy for ‘starter homes’ worth up to £250,000 (£450,000 in London) with a price 20% below the market value. ‘Starter homes’ will be counted as “affordable housing” and councils will have an obligation to promote them, to include a certain percentage on new sites (to be determined by a Minister). In contrast there will be no obligation on local authorities to promote ‘social housing’ for rent and council housing is being starved of funds. Under their new Housing Bill the definition of “affordable housing” will be determined by the Minister and he will be able to change the definition by regulation.
Swindon Housing Action Campaign is being launched to campaign for decent, secure and genuinely affordable homes. As the English Housing Survey shows around a third of the PRS does not meet the Decent Homes Standard. Whilst the standard of much of the PRS in Swindon is OK, the council does not devote sufficient resources to tackle the exploitative landlords and poor living conditions that do exist.
Tenants get ripped off by letting agencies. Not only do they charge the landlord for the services they provide them but the agencies charge tenants large fees (some of them dubious) which many struggle to pay on top of down-payments of 4-6 weeks rent as well as ‘security’ deposits. Swindon Housing Action Campaign wants to work with private tenants to build a campaign which tackles exploitative landlords and rip-off lettings agencies. There’s a crying need for a campaign to improve the situation in the PRS.