Housing is becoming more prominent and politicians are starting to take notice.
Housing has never been a popular topic for politicians – witness the rapid turnaround of housing ministers over the years. It is also a difficult, messy subject that cannot be easily dealt with in a couple of soundbites.
Here are a few things that politicians need to keep in mind when considering housing matters and developing housing policies.
This is people’s homes we are talking about
A home is very important. It is where you come back to every night to rest and relax. It is where you keep all your things and is where you should feel safe and comfortable.
The importance of having a home is also illustrated dramatically by the severe consequences of NOT having a home. It is almost impossible to obtain or retain employment, your children will be taken into care, and most people once made homeless, never get back to ‘normal life’.
The standard of homes is also important. Poor housing results in poor health for its occupants, children do less well at school (which will impact on the economy when they reach working age) and the costs to the NHS go up.
Its a complex subject and not something that can be ‘sorted’ easily.
You need to be careful who you listen to
If you listen to the likes of Shelter and the CAB, the landlord community is riddled with ‘rogue landlords’. People who deliberately refuse to carry out repairs and who routinely evict tenants who dare to complain. People who ride roughshod over tenants rights, regularly pocketing deposits without justification and walking in and out of properties without permission from tenants.
These people obviously exist, but how big a problem are they nationally? Does anyone really know?
Then there is the problem of short fixed terms. I have not read any of the manifesto’s in any detail (who does?) but I understand that Labour are promising long three-year fixed terms as the norm.
But do tenants really want this? Many tenants do – but how many? What happens if someone gets locked into a tenancy they then find is wrong for them? What can landlords do if they are stuck with a nightmare tenant and no easy way to get them out?
Both the landlord and the tenant organisations have compelling arguments. I have a lot of sympathy with both of them, but I am not convinced that either give a true overall picture.
What is needed is proper information about the private rented sector – how many homes, how many landlords, what are the rents, what is the condition of the properties, how long do tenants remain in occupation, etc, etc.
We should have a landlords register and landlord and agent accreditation – this is being introduced this year in Wales, which will be a useful test. If it works, it should be rolled out nationally without delay.
You CANNOT make good decisions without proper information.
What are the consequences of getting it wrong?
At the moment, an increasing proportion of the population is being housed in the private rented sector.
The vast majority of private sector landlords are ‘small landlords’ who own one or two properties as an investment. Often in the hope that it will provide its owners with a more reliable pension than they could get from the financial institutions.
I often say to landlords that being a landlord is not ‘just’ an investment, but that they are in a service industry providing an essential service to consumers.
However, let us not lose sight of the fact that it IS also an investment.
Mr and Mrs Brown from Bromley who have bought a two bedroomed property in Peckham as an investment for their retirement, are ordinary people. They are not a government department or a housing association.
They will do their best, as they are decent people, but you cannot expect them, for example, to house families for months without receiving rent if the father loses his job – its simply not fair on them.
If housing stops being a good investment, people will stop investing in it.
We KNOW this – in 1914 around 80% of households lived in private rented accommodation. After the various Rent Acts giving strong rights to tenants, this dwindled to around 8% in the 1980’s.
If investing in the private sector once again becomes a bad investment, what will happen this time around? Who will buy the properties that landlords no longer want to keep? The families currently living in them won’t be able to afford them.
I don’t have the answers (although I make some suggestions in my free ebook here), but I very much hope that those in power will think very carefully before taking precipitate action.
We have big changes coming in the Deregulation Act later this year. Lets see how those bed down. And see how the Welsh reforms work out. Before doing anything in a hasty manner.
And be careful what you wish for.
NB Generation Rent have done a response to this post here. (It will open in a new tab or window)