Victorian Squalor in 2016: The Private Rental Sector in Crisis

Campaigners march on City Hall to demand solutions to housing crisis

As demand for affordable rental accommodation far outstrips supply, a growing number of private renters are living in unsafe and insecure homes.

Private renting is fast becoming the new normal, and the proportion of households living in the private rental sector has risen by 80% compared to 2000. The demographics of those living in rented accommodation has also dramatically changed. No longer the exclusive domain of students and young professionals, families with children now make up one third of private renters. Facing the reality of soaring house prices and the dwindling supply of social housing, 32% of renters now expect to be living in the private rental sector for the rest of their lives, yet just 6% of renters say it’s their preferred choice of housing (Shelter, 2014).

Increased pressure on the private rental sector, however, has not been met with an increase in the supply of affordable homes available for rent. The result has been the rise in cost of private renting – rents have risen twice as fast as wages in the last decade – while conditions are worse than ever. Damp, mould, leaks and faulty electrics have become commonplace, with 33% of the private rental sector failing to meet the government’s Decent Homes Standard, a programme aimed at bringing all homes up to a basic minimum standard. A study conducted by the UK government found that 41% of private renters had experienced problems with mould in the last 12 months, 25% had experienced leaking roofs of windows and 17% have had to deal with an animal infestation (Shelter, 2014).

While these levels of dilapidation seem more suited to the Victorian age than the 21st century, this reality is perpetuated by the imbalance between landlord’s and renters’ respective market power. In most areas of the country, the demand for rental accommodation far outstrips supply, allowing seemingly indifferent landlords to ignore requests for repairs, confident in the knowledge that there will always be someone else willing to pay. Some renters have even expressed an unwillingness to complain about poor conditions, fearing “a retaliation” from landlords. Worryingly, this fear is not unfounded and this renters’ account is indicative of many: “I lived with bad conditions like mould and a boiler that broke all the time. There was damp in some of the rooms so it smelled musty. I tried calling to complain about the conditions, but he just put my rent up – he said he’d done it to encourage me to leave”.

Instead, it is those who have been left behind by the UK’s property boom who are bearing the brunt of the housing crisis. The mental and physical wellbeing of private renters is suffering, with the struggle to cope with the cold, excessive noise levels and disrepair being directly associated with higher levels of anxiety and depression (Shelter, 2014). Furthermore, with the rise in families living in the private rental sector, the effect of poor conditions on children is particularly concerning. How can children concentrate on their school work when “it feels like winter inside”? (The Guardian, 2016). Decent and safe homes are essential for children to excel, and the life chances of children of Britain’s next generation are being recklessly squandered due to the housing crisis.

The private rental sector realities being endured by low-income families in Britain is unacceptable in a country home to one of the world’s richest cities. While providing better rights and protections for tenants can help alleviate the crisis in the short-term, a lasting solution requires innovative thinking to address the root cause of the problem: the undersupply of affordable rental homes. Chototel aims to address the crux of the issue by increasing the supply of affordable rental accommodation, with a mission to scale to 5 million homes in the next decade. Due to innovative construction and management techniques – including smart housing solutions which enable tenants to pay for sustainable utilities on a pay-per-use basis – Chototel is able to supply affordable homes that exceed minimum quality requirements from just $2 a day.

At a time when the public sector’s supply of social housing is being reduced and it is being predicted that “slums may be re-emerging in the UK” (skynews, 2016), the private sector must take a stance on this pressing social issue. Using a market-driven approach to addressing the housing crisis, Chototel hopes to demonstrate to other potential suppliers that profit and social purpose can be pursued simultaneously.

By  Imogen Farhan

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