Housing crisis

Housing crisis: how to solve the rental disaster in London?

“Her boyfriend left her and she can’t afford to pay her rent. She finds herself in court where in less than five minutes she is homeless – just like that.

London’s 950,000* private tenants face a nightmare.

About 27% of the capital lives in private rental accommodation and – worryingly – the cost of living crisis is as “catastrophic as the pandemic in terms of homelessness”, experts warn.

Average rental prices have reached a staggering £2,500 a month, while 40% of Londoners fear they will struggle to keep up with payments over the next six months, according to YouGov.

A Spareroom housing survey found room rents hit their highest levels on record in the third quarter of 2022 – after an 18% year-on-year increase and a 117% increase in demand compared to last year. ‘offer.

City Hall leaders, housing experts, charities and tenants gathered at an emergency private sector summit at the Crystal – the shiny new home of the London Assembly in the East London Docklands earlier today (Monday November 14).

40% of Londoners fear they will struggle to cope with payments over the next six months, according to YouGov. Photo: Getty

Journalist and housing author Vicky Spratt, one of the speakers, told guests about a day she recently spent at eviction hearings at Croydon County Court.

‘A civil servant, mother of one, whose son is taking his GCSEs next year,’ she said.

“Her boyfriend left her and she can’t afford to pay her rent. She finds herself in court where in five minutes she is homeless, just like that.

“It’s the reality now. Rents are going up, 30%, 40% sometimes even 70% rent increases. We don’t have enough social housing and housing allowances don’t cover rents.

“Where will she go?”

From left, Deputy Mayor for Housing Tom Copley, Polly Neate, Managing Director of Shelter, Baroness Alicia Kennedy, Director of Generation Rent and Housing Journalist Vicky Spratt. Photo: London World

Private tenants, co-op housing activists and experts from charities such as Shelter, Generation Rent and StepChange tell story after story of evictions, backlogs and destitution.

Tenant Jonas, 57, is in despair.

“It’s so toxic out there with the landlords,” he says. “I have no confidence in them to do the right thing. It won’t be solved for my generation.

While Kyron, 40, who cares for his elderly father and grandmother, battled his landlord and local council to repair his property after it was flooded with raw sewage – in July 2021.

He is now evicted in two weeks and shockingly described being effectively homeless as a “relief”.

Tenant Kyron at the Mayor’s Emergency Summit. Photo: London World

Baroness Alicia Kennedy, director of housing campaign Generation Rent, said tenants who live with the “constant fear of a Section 21 notice…of only having eight weeks to pack their bags and going back to that market they can no longer afford” is “the right to worry”.

While Polly Neate, head of the charity Shelter, described conditions in temporary accommodation as “unliveable” before stressing: “It’s very often not temporary”.

And Richard Lane, from debt advice charity StepChange, adds: ‘We absolutely lack the tools in the toolbox to help people.

“Even after our advice, 40% of people who come to us now have negative budgets. We can refer them to food banks, but we can’t do anything else.

Mayor Sadiq Khan, center, on a panel with (left to right) Director of Public Health Professor Kevin Fenton, Tenant Kyron, Deputy Mayor Tom Copley and journalist Vicky Spratt. Photo: London World

Obviously, everyone agrees there is a problem – but what to do about it?

He wants the government to give him the power to freeze rents for two years.

He also wants the government to delegate rent control powers to him as mayor of the capital.

Mayor Sadiq Khan. Photo: Getty

Speaking to LondonWorld, Khan said: ‘Scotland has frozen rents.

“In other parts of the world, in capitalist cities like Vienna, Berlin, Paris and many cities in America, like New York – they have some form of rent control and the sky hasn’t fallen.

“What I say to the government is to do two things. One is a rent freeze for the next two years. The other is to delegate to me the power to control rents.

But his opponents at City Hall insist the mayor’s approach is flawed and want him to focus on building more homes.

“I just want him to point anywhere in the known universe where it works, where these rent controls work, Andrew Boff, the Conservative housing critic, told me.

Average rents in London are now £2,343 pcm. Chart: NationalWorld

“The real effect of rent controls – and even rent freezes – is reducing investment in housing… [and] discourages landlords from offering rental accommodation.

“Politicians who are proposing this as a solution either don’t know what they are talking about or they are trying to mislead people.”

Asked what his party would do to deal with the crisis, Boff slammed the mayor for leaving “some £600million” unallocated in his £4.8billion budget for affordable housing.

“Any Londoner can tell you what the solution to the housing crisis is, to build more houses,” he insisted. “The mayor got in the way of providing more properties.

“If he was serious about the housing crisis, he would have spent that money [rather than] make excuses for his poor performance.

Conservative housing spokesman Andrew Goff. Photo: London World

The National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) agreed with Boff, saying the mayor should focus on increasing housing supply rather than “tinkering with the symptoms” of the crisis.

The organization said it was “extremely disappointed that the mayor thinks he can fix the problems in the rental market without any input from those who actually provide the housing.”

He added: “The hard and simple reality is that, while the demand for private rental accommodation in London continues to rise, the supply of such accommodation is falling.

“It’s a consequence of government policy to downsize the sector, as well as the mayor’s rhetoric suggesting that private landlords are a problem to be managed.”

Owners have complained about not being invited to the mayor’s summit. Photo: Getty

Quarrels aside, what tenants — and landlords — really want to know is whether Khan’s approach could actually work.

A housing expert, working in a non-political role, told LondonWorld that a rent freeze could help – but, crucially, only if combined with more house building.

Another pundit, speaking on the merits, said the two sides were tackling the issue on opposite sides of a political divide over whether market intervention was a good idea.

Baroness Kennedy says she supports the mayor’s call for a rent freeze and hopes to see an increase in housing allowances and a lifting of the cap announced in Thursday’s autumn statement.

The tenant Jonas in front of the town hall. Photo: London World

Setting out her view, she said: ‘There needs to be intervention and we support a rent freeze [that] must also suspend section 21 or you will still have landlords using this power to evict.

“The Conservative government has a very different approach to the Labor mayor.”

She continued: “The cost of living crisis is as bad as the pandemic is for renters in terms of homelessness.

“Arrears are up, prices are up, energy bills are up, wages are down and benefits are frozen, so something has to give.”

Speaking after the event, Kyron said, “It’s good to see tenants finally being represented.”

And Jonas admitted the summit left him – cautiously – hopeful.

“I have hope – but only for the next generation,” he said.

“We have to see the action first.”