Living in Brighton and Hove the notion that there is a housing ‘crisis’ is not a difficult one to believe. A walk in any busy street will quickly make evident the numerous amounts of people sleeping rough on the streets come summer or winter. Yet I ask is this display really a ‘crisis’? I ask this question because the word ‘crisis’ signifies that the current state of affairs is drastically different and unforeseen from what the norm would be and pronounces a situation that can only be solved by immediate large scale action. In fact, I offer that the lack of affordable housing in the UK presents not a ‘crisis’, but rather business as usual and little is being done to combat this.
A huge factor to play in our current housing climate is the lack of social housing ready at the point of need. In 2018, the housing and homeless charity Shelter found that over 1.15 million households were on the waiting list for social housing and over 27% of these households had been on the waiting list for over five years. The UK’s pursuit of the neoliberal ideals, shrinking the state in favour of capitalist individualism, has meant that there is far less social housing available as the government favours privatisation and private property. This has caused a divide to be created between those who are able to buy properties, either for themselves or for profit, creating an industry for an entity that is vital for human existence … and those less fortunate, left behind.
The Right to Buy scheme introduced in 1980 saw social housing disappear in favour of individuals. Whilst the ability to buy one’s own home is of huge benefit to an individual household; council homes numbers were not replenished in a sustainable way to keep up with the demand from new households in need. Therefore, where in 1981, 31% of the public were in socially rented accommodation, predominantly council homes, in 2017, this number had reduced to 17%. The pressures on this limited amount of social housing has also caused the state to become far more punitive in its handling of vulnerable people applying for social housing. If a person refuses for any reason a home offered to them, even where there are reasonable reasons behind why such a refusal was made, such as the household needing to relocate across the country, leaving their communities or jobs behind, council’s perceive this household as being ‘intentionally homeless’ and subsequently cease to have a duty to provide them with housing.
Inevitably this forces a huge amount of people to rely on the private rental sector, which in Brighton and Hove, alike many other areas in the South East is subject to a hugely inflated price tag. Brighton and Hove Council reports that almost a third of homes are privately rented. The average renting price of a two bedroom flat in Brighton and Hove in 2017 was £1,150p/m, a staggering number in comparison to a similar flat in Leeds costing only £746p/m. The characteristic of renting from private landlords tends to include large expense over time but also being subject to a huge amount of uncertainty over the security of one’s tenancy and the often inadequate conditions of the property. The rise in people on low incomes renting privately is also causing social welfare to be spent subsidising the cost of privately rented homes instead of being pumped back into the public purse.
What is the way out of this bleak housing climate?
I offer it involves a mixed ecology of housing. The answer does not lie solely in an increase in council housing, of which will only ever create marginal gains against the relentless demand. We need more regulations on the rent-to-buy economy; higher standards on repairs to homes in both the public and private sector; a legal enshrined right to adequate housing and an increase in alternative housing solutions, such as co-operatives, which empower groups of people to share the responsibility of owning and managing a home.
RebLaw Conference 2018 – Breakout session: The homelessness crisis and the right to housing.