Although the main housing elements of today’s Queen’s Speech were reported in the week leading up to the announcement, it’s still very disappointing to have a housing bill outlined today that does nothing for the 11 million (and growing) private renters in this country.
Government will argue that their Starter Home initiative, which aims to provide 200,000 homes to first-time buyers under 40, at a 20% discount, is aimed exactly at ‘generation rent’.
But leaving aside the fact that the detail on how this will be paid for is still uncertain, and that current supply estimates suggest we need 250,000 homes built PER YEAR, in addition to the 1 million backlog, it is still this focus solely on homeownership that means the private rented sector will continue to fail tenants for years to come.
It has repeatedly been made clear that private renting is the least secure and most expensive form of housing, and has the worst conditions. Yet as increasing numbers of people live there, and for longer periods of time, government feels a sustainable solution is to subsidise some people into homeownership, rather than regulate the PRS and in doing so support millions of people, as Generation Rent has advocated.
This failure in priorities has also led to the extension of Right-To-Buy, also announced in today’s housing bill. We have previously voiced our deep concerns about this policy and today there not even a definitive line that each home would be replaced one-for-one. But we also know that 40% of former Right-To-Buy properties have ended up in the hands of private landlords in many areas, without their previous security and with spiralling rents.
It is this folly of focusing on homeownership over private renting that has over many years seen huge amounts of affordable and secure stock transfer into a private rented sector that lacks both those features. And those who think that increasing supply will ease pressure on the sector enough to see standards driven up are fooling themselves – we need much better legal guarantees that the PRS will provide the homes we truly need.
Certainly pressure on housing will not be eased for many renters with the withdrawal of housing benefit for 18-21 year olds; we are yet to see whether Local Housing Allowance will be frozen, meaning renters who do still qualify for benefits will find it increasingly difficult to find somewhere to live.
Of course, there is still a great lack of detail and room to make that detail better in the coming parliamentary session. But what is clear is that this housing bill fails to make the changes needed for a fair and sustainable private rented sector – and to improve the lives of 11 million private renters.