Dawn Primarolo's article for Pigeon Magazine June 2014

I have written often about the growing housing crisis in Bristol, in particular the number of undeveloped sites in Bedminster and the dreadful lack of genuinely affordable homes to rent.

 

With rents and house prices rising sharply, and little sign of significant new building, it is likely that there will continue to be huge pressure on those renting or seeking to buy a home in Bristol. For many, the dream of home ownership is further away than ever, they simply can’t afford to buy a home in the community where they go to work or where their children have always gone to school. It is essential action is taken to force developers to build, and to build a mix of new homes.

 

Private renting is however currently the only option, not just for students and young people, but for hundreds of families in south Bristol. The number of families with children renting has increased by 86% in the last five years alone. But tenancies can last as little as six months with a risk of being thrown out with just two months’ notice. Some unscrupulous landlords demand huge rent rises with the threat of eviction. The result is that there has been a 60% rise in working people claiming housing benefit.

 

This constant instability is bad for tenants, bad for families, bad for landlords, and bad for our society.

 

In order to provide long term stability Labour have announced plans to make three year tenancies the standard in the British private rented sector. There will be limits on rent rises during this period – landlords will know their income and tenants will know their outgoings.

 

Of course landlords would still be able to terminate tenancies for good reason, such as antisocial behaviour or non payment. Labour would also ban letting agents fees to tenants, which can be as much as £500, with £350 being the average.

 

There are many very good landlords in Bristol who already offer their tenants long term stability, these plans would simply ensure that every tenant has that security.

 

This is part of a wider package of housing reforms, including giving local councils “use it or lose it” powers over developers, designated land for self or custom build and most importantly, the resumption of building council houses. Forty years ago most public spending on housing was spent building homes while just a fifth was paid out in housing benefit. But in the current four-year spending period, less than £5bn will be spent building homes and £95bn will go to private landlords in housing benefit.

 

This must change.

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