New Wandworth private rented development condemned as not in community interest

We are extremely disappointed by Wandsworth Council’s decision to use a planning provision that should be used in the interest of the local community (for example by providing social or other genuinely affordable housing or facilities) to encourage a developer to build more expensive privately rented housing. We are also concerned that other councils in London may seek to repeat this.

Wandsworth Council have used a Section 106 agreement, which is supposed to ensure that private developments do not run counter to community’s interest by making developers to contribute to offset negative impacts of development. London Renters believes that the developer, Bellway, building of 114 units of privately rented housing at market rents is not of benefit to the community. Wandsworth Council believe that attracting more “young, upwardly mobile singles and couples” to the borough represents a community benefit, this parallels statements by other London councils seeking to attract a “better class of tenant” to their borough. We do not believe the social cleansing of the old, poor and children is of benefit to communities in London.

As renters in London, we know that for tenants private renting is highly exploitative and very rarely meets our needs. Indeed research conducted by Shelter shows that only 6 per cent of renters would stay in private rented housing given the choice. We do not believe that local or central government should be encouraging the building of more of these homes.

Activists occupy Department of Communities and Local Government in protest at evictions

Housing campaigners from London Renters today occupied the Department of Communities and Local Government (DCLG) in protest at evictions and insecurity of tenure. The campaigners bedded down in sleeping bags in the department’s lobby to highlight how being evicted by a private landlord has become the leading cause of homelessness. [1]

OccupyDCLG1

The protest follows reports of a workshop held by DCLG about ways of making it easier for landlords to evict tenants. [2] The campaigners want secure tenancies for all tenants, and in particular an end to ‘no fault’ evictions. [3]

OccupyDCLG4

Members of the groups behind the protest have themselves been evicted for asking for repairs to be done or joining a local tenants’ campaign. Recent research by Shelter found that 1 in 33 renters had been a victim of retaliatory eviction, and a one in eight were so fearful of it that they did not ask for repairs to be done.[4]

OccupyDCLG3

 

Emma Bradshaw, one of the activists, said: “It is already easier to evict a tenant in the UK than it is in any other European country and it is disgraceful that the government are thinking about making it even easier.Landlords ending private tenancies are now the main cause of homelessness and the number of evictions has been soaring since 2010 [5]. Instead of making it easier for landlords to evict tenants, we need secure tenancies to reduce homelessness and allow people to build lives in their communities without fear.”

As part of a consultation on property conditions in the private rented sector, there has been a proposal to prevent landlords evicting tenants where they have complained about serious disrepairs. [6] However, this would still leave tenants at risk of eviction for things like being involved in private tenants groups or questioning a rent increase. There is also no guarantee that this proposal will be implemented.

OcuppyDCLG2

Raymond Ambler from London Renters said: “While we would welcome restrictions on the ability of landlords to issue section 21 possession notices where a property is in disrepair or needs improvements, we consider that alone this is not adequate to address the wider problem of insecurity of tenure in the private rented sector. For example, tenants also fear evictions for joining or being seen to be involved in private tenants groups or other housing campaigns, questioning rent increases or asking permission to make changes to their home or living arrangements like hanging pictures or keeping a pet. We consider that section 21 should be removed entirely, and private tenants should have the same rights and security as social tenants with secure tenancies.

“In the case of preventing retaliatory eviction in response to a tenant’s request for repairs, we consider that the restriction on the use of section 21 possession notices should cover any complaint about property conditions, not just where serious disrepair or the need for major improvements is found.”

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For more information, interviews and images, contact letdown.action@gmail.com

Notes to editors

  1. The end of an assured shorthold tenancy (AST – the standard private tenancy) was the single greatest cause of homelessness in 2013, accounting for one in four cases, up from one in nine cases in 2009.Source: https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/homelessness-statistics
  2. Source: http://blogs.channel4.com/cathy-newman-blog/government-plans-evictions-easier-leaves-tenants-fearful/489
  3. Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 enables landlords to evict tenants without any reason with two months notice after the initial term of an assured shorthold tenancy. For more information, see http://england.shelter.org.uk/get_advice/eviction/eviction_of_private_tenants/eviction_of_assured_shorthold_tenants
  4. Source: http://england.shelter.org.uk/professional_resources/policy_and_research/policy_library/policy_library_folder/report_cant_complain
  5. Source: http://www.crisis.org.uk/news.php/495/private-tenants-see-eviction-orders-soar
  6. See https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/review-of-property-conditions-in-the-private-rented-sector

East London mums challenge move into private rented housing

Before Christmas we highlighted how the private rented sector is completely unfit for homeless or vulnerable families. Now a group of mums living in temporary accommodation in Newham are arguing exactly that. They are rejecting attempts to make them move as far away as Hastings or Manchester, and don’t want to be forced into expensive, poor quality and insecure private rented housing in London either.Focus E15 Mums party Focus E15 Mums party 2We were excited last month when, inspired by our housewarming party action in November, they held children’s party protest at East Thames, the housing association that is attempting to evict them. Now, at 10am this Thursday (6 February) they are holding a protest at the Mayoral Proceedings at Council Chamber, Old Town Hall, 29 The Broadway, Stratford E15 4BQ against being pushed into the private rented sector. Please support them if you can.

You can read more about their struggle here and here, and sign their petition.

Why housing charities must demand more

Today Shelter is hosting an event entitled “Ways to improve the experiences of homeless families and individuals placed in the private rented sector”. Yet Shelter’s own research tells us about how the private rented sector (PRS) is systematically failing families.

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We applaud the work charities such as Shelter and Crisis do with homeless families. But we’re disappointed to see them colluding with the local and national government policy to re-house homeless people in the PRS. Shelter need only look to their own research to see why they should be openly opposing this approach.

The event today is aimed at local authorities and other practitioners. But they’re the wrong people to talk to. Since 2010, the government has increased the sell-off of social housing through Right to Buy and passed the Localism Act 2011 which means that councils no longer need to find social housing for homeless families, but instead can palm them off in the private rented sector where they face rip-off rents, poor housing, insecurity and exploitation. Rather than legitimising this approach and discussing with over-stretched and cash-strapped councils how to make the best of a bad job when people are forced into the PRS, Shelter and Crisis should be demanding a national change of approach to housing.

The interim findings from Shelter and Crisis’ three-year research project into homeless families experiences document the unreasonable demands made by many landlords of homeless families, not to mention the insecurity of knowing they could be evicted for no reason at any time. Staggeringly, for some families, eviction notices have been served as part of their contract.

The report shows families are living in inadequate housing which lacks proper cooking facilities. Some families are being forced to share beds. For others, renters feel unable to report repairs because of hefty call out charges or the very real fear they’d be branded a trouble maker and evicted. In a number of cases, tenants had done considerable work on their homes at their own expense to avoid bothering the landlord. This is not surprising; existing research shows that, compared to wealthier private tenants, those on lower incomes are twice as likely not to take action about a problem with their landlord for fear of the consequences.

Families interviewed by Shelter had spent up to seven months searching for a property they were able to rent, and some had had to move miles from their children’s school. In one case, a parent was spending an hour and 40 minutes taking their child to school each day, and another was travelling 15 miles.

Other research reveals how poorly regulated, insecure private rented housing is part of the reason people become homeless in the first place: government statistics show that for households becoming homeless, in over one in four cases this was due to their standard private tenancy ending – up from one in nine in 2009. That doesn’t include others mentioned in the research such as the family who were served an eviction notice after complaining to the council about the landlord’s failure to do repairs to address their appalling living conditions.

The description of the project on Shelter’s website states “We expect that the private rented sector will increasingly become a tenure of choice in which to house people.” But let’s be clear: as for the vast majority of renters we speak to, the PRS is not where homeless families want to live. Statistics show that the PRS is more expensive, poorer quality and less secure than other types of housing. Most of us are here because we have no other choice – it’s a good option when the only alternatives are temporary accommodation, rough sleeping or, as one participant in the study said, “living in a tent”.

For the wellbeing of homeless families, wider society and the public purse it’s obvious we need far more social housing, which is cheaper, better quality and provides people with the security they need to recover from the trauma of being homeless and prevent it happening again. We also need proper regulation to protect those who continue to rent from private landlords from extortionate rents, poor quality housing and chronic insecurity.

These are the things we were demanding at our recent housewarming protest against high rents and government subsidies for luxury private rented flats, just a few hundred meters from where the Shelter event is being held in Stratford. Meanwhile, the same issues are being faced by residents on the neighbouring Carpenters Estate which is threatened with redevelopment plans. It’s clear that the sooner we unite in demanding real change, the sooner it’ll happen.

Open letter to Genesis

Dear Genesis,

On 17 November, you spoke to Inside Housing magazine about our housewarming party at your Stratford Halo development.

We’re sorry not to have heard from you directly, but are pleased to hear that our concerns are misplaced.

Did you mean that we’re mistaken about the two bedroom flats being let for a minimum of £1,700 per month, meaning that they’re only affordable to families with an income of £76,000 or more per year? That would be good news, because the average income in Newham is £26,681.

Or perhaps you mean that you will be withdrawing your application to the government’s Build to Rent scheme instead of cashing in on subsidised finance for the privately rented flats you’re planning in Colindale, Ealing and Upton Park, at an estimated cost of a couple of million quid to the public purse*? That’d be great too!

Apologies for not contacting you beforehand – but we weren’t sure whether you’d be up for a party. But now we’re in dialogue, we look forward to you confirming how our original comments were inaccurate.

Yours sincerely,

Let Down Renters

* We estimate that the Build to Rent programme will cost the taxpayer at least £90m. 45 developers have been shortlisted for the main tranche of funding, with Genesis applying for finance for three different developments.

Renters occupy luxury flat development

haloaction2Partiers 1

15 private tenants from 7 local tenant action groups across London
held a ‘housewarming party’ at a development of newly built private rented flats in Stratford, east London, in protest at soaring private rents and the government’s failure to tackle the problem. London rents have been rising at around 7 per cent per year. [1] 10 others held a solidarity protest outside the Genesis tower block (see photo below).

The flats are built and let by Genesis [2], which has been shortlisted to receive funding through a government subsidy scheme [3] for private rented housing in three developments in London [4].

Housewarming card

Rents in the occupied development, marketed as ‘Stratford Halo’, start from £1,700pcm for a two bedroom flat, the minimum size needed for a family with children – of which there are now more than 1.3 million renting from private landlords in England [5]. Based on figures published by Shelter, these rents would only be affordable to families with an income of £76,000 or more [6].

Emma Bradshaw, one of the activists, said:

“Private renting is expensive and gives people no security – the last thing we need is more of it. Rather than supporting developers to build expensive private rented housing that is only affordable to the very wealthiest, the government should bring in measures to keep rents under control and invest in good quality genuinely affordable social housing that gives ordinary people the security they need.”
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In total, £1bn is being made available to developers to build new private rented properties as subsidised finance at an estimated minimum cost to the public purse of £90m. [7] The government claims that the first £700m of the funding “has the potential to deliver between 8,000 and 10,000 new homes”. [8]

If the £1bn was used to build social housing on publicly owned land, around 10,000 new homes could be built [9], with money recovered through the rents. This would also help to reduce the housing benefit bill, 40 per cent of which now goes to private landlords as one in four private tenants currently needs housing benefit to afford their rent. [10]

Check out the photo gallery here

See leaflet here

For further information, images, footage and interviews, please contact letdown.action@gmail.com.

The protest was organised and supported by the following private tenants groups:
Advice 4 Renters (Brent)  –  Camden Federation of Private Tenants  –   Digs (Hackney Renters)   –  Haringey Private Tenants Action Group   –   Lambeth Renters  –   Southwark Tenants   –   Tower Hamlets Renters

All groups are also members of London Renters, a coalition of private tenants groups
The London Renters network aims to share resources for taking action on private tenants issues; support people to set up new private tenants groups in their borough and campaign together against developers, landlords, letting agents, government or anyone profiting from or exploiting our basic need for housing. Contact londonrenters@riseup.net for more information and to sign up for regular announcements.

Notes to editors

1. Figures published by LSL Property Services found that London rents rose 7.9 per cent in the year to March 2013 – eight times faster than wages.

2. According to its 2012-13 financial statements, “Genesis aims to be a leading property based service provider”, providing housing for sale and rent (at both social and market rents). The company had a turnover of £293m and made £36.7m from sales of property in the year to March 2013. It also received £34.3m in grants. In ten years time (2022-23) the company is projecting an operating surplus of £73m.

3. The Built to Rent fund provides subsidised finance (through loans or equity) to private developers for privately rented homes which will be let at market rents. £1bn is being made available through the scheme, with 43 companies with a total of 45 bids currently being assessed for the first £700m of finance – an average of £15.6m per project.

4. A Freedom of Information request to the Greater London Authority, which is assessing the bids for Build to Rent funding in London, reveals that the following three Genesis developments have been shortlisted to received funding through the Build to Rent fund:

  • New Hendon Village, Colindale (zone 4), London Borough of Barnet
  • Madeley Road, North Ealing (zone 3), London Borough of Ealing
  • Springboard House, Upton Park (zone 3), London Borough of Newham

A total of 15 London developments from 12 developers have been shortlisted to receive funding through the scheme.

5. The English Housing Survey 2011-12 finds there 1,306,000 households with dependent children renting privately.

6. Shelter’s Private Rent Watch studies are based on rents being affordable if they take up no more than 35 per cent of net income. At a rent of £1,700 per month, the cheapest two bedroom flats in the Stratford Halo development would only be affordable to households with a monthly net income of £4,857, or £58,286 per year. This equates to a gross income of around £76,000 per year (assuming two earners with equal salaries, claiming child benefit for one child and having no other income).

7. Calculation based on funding provided through loans to developers with A-AAA credit ratings and normal collateralisation for a ten year period, with annual interest payments and the principle repaid at the end of the period. At current interest rates, developers will pay 1.74 per cent interest (source), yet the government pays 2.66 per cent (source). The minimum cost to the government of the loans (excluding operating costs for the scheme) is £92m (lending money at 0.92 per cent below their cost of borrowing £1bn over the ten year period). The effective subsidy to the developers is estimated at around double this figure, as the developers are able to benefit from access to loans at a considerably lower rate via the government than they would be to access themselves directly on the market.

8. Source: DCLG

9. Based on building costs (excluding land) of £100,000 per home (source: New Economics Foundation)

10. Source: English Housing Survey