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Just Because You Work Full Time Doesn't Mean You're Safe: The Alarming Link Between Corporate Greed and Rising Rent Prices

by Miranda Webb

Everyone is replaceable.

One misconstrued slip-up, and there’s a long line of people to tentatively step in the door just as you’re pushed out.

Perhaps this is something you’d expect to hear on a film set or a Dance Moms re-run. But now, this even applies to a terrible-paying and incredibly boring office job - or, simply trying to find and keep a home.

Without considering those who need support or are unable to work, so only looking at those in full time work, the numbers facing homelessness at the end of 2022 increased by 22% compared to the same period 2 years ago.

According to a report by ITVX, "Of those who became homeless in England in 2022, one in four households had at least one person in work."

Going on to state, "72,790 households where someone has a full or part time job became homeless or were threatened with homelessness."

With rent prices soaring and landlords’ laissez-faire attitude to their tenants’ lives when the cash flow doesn’t rise to match, what can be done to prevent more and more people from becoming at risk of being homeless amid a cost of living crisis?

Rent strikes, at face value, appear to be the most heroic and impressive course of action.

The intrepid 1972 Kirkby rent strike, kicked off by working class women fighting rent rises imposed by the Housing Finance Act, demonstrates a collective rising up against the local authority and the government.

More recently, students have used direct action to protest the cost of university accommodation during Covid and, now, the surge in inflation. More students than ever fear even the maximum loan won't cover their rent never mind their food and academic books, oh, and don't even think about a social life.

This direct action is much harder to pull off on a small scale in the private sector, individual versus individual, involving much hardship, anxiety and legal struggle. Objectively, it may not feel worth it against a local buy-to-let landlord, although renters unions can offer some support.

There are 2.74 million private landlords in the UK, and the majority of them are over the age of 55.

Buy-to-let landlords have been a prevalent topic of controversy, especially in the last few months, facing criticisms over the morality of using the desperate housing climate for a source of income.

A recent article from The Big Issue suggests that those who rent, and therefore become the sole contributors to buy-to-let mortgage payments, should be rightfully granted a share of the equity in the property when asked to leave.

Not only would this recognise the investment of the tenant, especially if it has been years in the making, but also the worth of their wellbeing over their monthly wad of cash. 

However, it’s not just tenants’ money servicing buy-to-let mortgages, and contributing to private landlords’ retirement income.

Between 2022 and 2026 rent paid through Universal Credit or Housing benefit is forecast to cost taxpayers £58.2bn. Average rents are now well over £1,000 per month, particularly in high-demand areas, and according to a recent report by HomeLet ‘there seems to be no sign of a slowdown in the continued growth of rents across the UK’. 

The Labour Party’s manifesto has long offered rent controls as a temporary capping system to suppress the spiraling costs.

Unfortunately, the shadow communities secretary, Lisa Nandy, now preaches the alleged faults of this much needed policy, calling it a ‘sticking plaster’.

Rent controls are in place in many other European countries, such as Germany, Ireland, France and the Netherlands. The sheer number of individuals priced out of their homes and neighbourhoods, notably in large cities and tourist-centric areas like Bath or Cornwall, should demonstrate the necessity of rent controls linked to average wages rather than the market.

Furthermore, rent controls could bridge the gaping holes of the forthcoming Renter’s Reform Bill, which many argue doesn’t go far enough to stop unreasonable rent increases, although no fault evictions will cease to be valid. 

Nandy claims that rent controls would cause buy-to-let landlords to stop renting, or re-think doing so before they even start for fear of having to pay even a fraction of the mortgage out of their own pockets, leading to even less available housing.

While this certainly is a potential risk, measures can be put in place to ward off this effect. Greater Manchester Mayor, Andy Burnham, and London Mayor, Sadiq Khan, have each proposed compulsory purchase or ‘buy-back’ schemes through which buy-to-let properties could be acquired by local councils and then rented out as social housing. 

Only a government policy as radical as Thatcher’s Right-To-Buy can reverse the lasting damage it caused to housing options for social and private tenants.

By converting inadequate or overstretched buy-to-let properties into social housing, as well as freezing or even reducing rents, tenants may at last be able to enjoy some disposable income to spend or save, and homes may be easier to obtain and keep.

This could be the fastest way to end the epic British struggle to find an affordable and secure home. 

Chasing endlessly after prices that ruthlessly dictate your quality of life is exhausting no matter who you are; a parent, a student, perhaps a landlord yourself.

The dire situation has lasted long enough, and now that only the wealthy can keep up it’s time to let everybody else catch their breath.

With the rise in interest rates, buy-to-let landlords with substantial mortgages are becoming anxious and preparing to impose their financial difficulty on their tenants.

A decent home is a human right, not something to deserve or compete for.

Edited by Emily Duff

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