11 February, 2016
In our latest blog Toby Lloyd, Head of Policy at Shelter, explains how he believes there are at least three ways the private sector can help fight the housing crisis.
This year is Shelter’s fiftieth year. For half a century, we’ve fought bad housing and homelessness.
One of the biggest battles we’ve had to fight is in the private rented sector. In the sixties, when we were set up, it was a fight against slums and squalor. Now, it’s a fight to make sure our eleven million renters have a secure and stable place to call home.
House prices and rents have spiralled out of reach of millions of people in this country, as wages have failed to keep up with our runaway housing market. Instead of securing a home of their own, millions are now stuck renting, or back in their childhood bedrooms.
This is a challenge that all of us as individual citizens, as families and increasingly, as employers, have to tackle directly. If we don’t there’s a real risk that the dream of a decent, secure home will become a thing of the past.
Under successive governments, this country has failed to build anything near like enough homes for decades.
We currently build around half of the 250,000 homes a year that we need. And there is no way that those homes can be built without the efforts of Britain’s businesses.
Here at Shelter, we believe that there are at least three ways in which that the private sector can help us fight the housing crisis:
Invest in new homes
Help us raise rental standards for your employees, and customers
We cannot rely on the existing house builders alone to double supply. We need new entrants to the sector, brining fresh capital, fresh ideas and new ways of working, to increase capacity, diversity and competition. We need innovation to speed up house building: for example, modular building techniques can be quicker and more efficient, while delivering the same or higher standards of building as traditional methods, and offering greater certainty.
We need to think boldly about how to accommodate growth in our growing cities: growing upwards and outwards is likely to be needed, as are smarter design approaches to compact city living. Liveable urban neighbourhoods need to be attractive places to live and work – and include homes for all of society’s needs, from families to students, from single people to retirees.
We need innovation in the business model of house building too. In particular we need models based on long term investment in high quality homes and places. Applying patient institutional capital can reduce the cost of building new homes for sale, and particularly for rent.
Our partner L&G has built affordable homes for rent using innovative leaseback partnerships with local authorities. They’ve also started to create new, quality, purpose built stock from scratch and at scale, in places like Walthamstow and Salford, and has this week announced the launch of a Build to Rent partnership with PGGM. This partnership will initially invest £600m into building purpose built private rental housing across the UK, providing over 3,000 homes – a welcome contribution towards increasing supply.
So on the supply side there is good work going on. Frankly any company with a balance sheet can understand where it's currently invested and decide to look at housing as a long-term investment for some of that money. It's not just financial services businesses that can stimulate housing supply.
Where's your company balance sheet invested? Overnight cash, bonds and equities. How much of that is used to support UK housing – for both your workers and your customers?
Being a landlord is not just about returns, it’s a responsibility.
Responsible landlords understand that they are accountable not just for their rate of return, but also for their conduct. Landlords that do right by their tenants in harder times, tend to succeed in the good times.
Our helpline often hears from people in the private rented sector who’s landlords seem to be unaware of their responsibilities towards their tenants. Many renters have to put up with unacceptable disrepair within their home, and some have experienced harassment when they’ve tried to complain.
I'm pleased to say that Shelter in Wales is now working with Legal & General and the Welsh government to develop the first ever Responsible Landlord Training for first time landlords in the private rented sector. Those who are serious about being a landlord should sign up to such training courses – and should consult our ‘advice for landlords’ webpages for information on how to be a responsible landlord.
The cost of housing is already one of the biggest constraints on business growth, as it pushes up wage costs and restricts recruitment. But as more and more people are priced out and forced to rent privately, the impacts of instability in the rented sector are starting to impact on employers as well.
Legal & General have told us that at least 30% of their employees are in rented accommodation, and there are currently eleven million private renters in England alone.
Simply put, if your employees have a stable home, they will be more productive at work. And this is where employers can help.
A number of high profile businesses now offer their employees Rental Deposit Loans, including Legal & General, the Cooperative and Starbucks. These provide renters with interest-free loans to cover tenancy deposits when they need to move from one rented home to another. In our experience, help with that tenancy deposit can make a real difference to employees, which is often rewarded with loyalty and long service.
As an example, Shelter Cymru have been working with Legal & Generals Cardiff-based employees who are now accessing an interest-free, Shelter supported rental deposit loan scheme, alongside our independent advice on housing issues, as part of their company benefits package. This will roll out across the company very soon. We’ve found that the combination of advice and support can make a huge difference to workers.
Any organisation is only as good as the people who work there.
For fifty years, Shelter has campaigned so that one day, everyone will have a safe, secure and affordable home. This isn’t just a belief that comes from the heart, but from the head.
When people have a home of their own, they have a stake in society. When they rent somewhere that provides them with stability and is up to standard, and that they can afford, they can see the reward of their labour. And when their workplace accepts its need to look after them, and that the roof over their head is just as much a part of the company’s bottom line as their wages, they feel as if that is a place worth working for.
As our housing crisis deepens, it’s employers who grasp this who are on the right side of history.