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How Bristol needs to tackle its renting crisis, according to the Greens

While it’s so difficult to build enough houses, landlord licensing across the city and rent controls are needed to make renting more secure and affordable, write Green councillors Tony Dyer and Tom Hathway.

In Disrepair: Bristol's broken renting system

Bristol’s housing crisis has been driven by a lack of supply of socially rented housing and a market that treats houses as investment opportunities rather than homes for people.

The UK in general has been trying to build its way out of the issue for years, but there are now 16,000 families on Bristol’s housing waiting list, mortgages have grown further out of reach of those most in need and rent increases have outstripped wages.

Many of those on the social housing waiting list continue to be trapped in an increasingly unaffordable private rented sector due to a lack of truly affordable homes to rent.

There have been some positive recent developments. The approval of the council’s housing budget has seen a four-fold increase in the number of council homes planned, with strong potential for more to come, and the council’s wholly-owned housing company is also ramping up its delivery pipeline with a commitment to 50% of the homes built being truly affordable.

But, at the same time, there are pressures from outside, especially from central government, that place unreasonable demands on Bristol’s capacity to deliver housing without damaging many of the attributes that make the city so attractive to live in – if you can afford to. Central government’s policy of demanding a 35% uplift of housing delivery numbers on Bristol (and other cities) places undue pressure on the city’s planning process that undermines local decision making.

These externally-imposed housing targets for Bristol far exceed what the city has ever been able to deliver – even in the housing boom before the financial crash.

These unrealistic housing numbers need to be challenged, especially if we want to protect land that we value for its ecological and/or environmental value, but also to protect land that we need to provide the jobs we need both now and in the future.

To do this there needs to be a realistic reappraisal of all the council-owned land in the city to fully assess what is Bristol’s realistic capacity to deliver homes, whilst also identifying the land we need to protect to preserve our natural environment, our ecological inheritance, and to safeguard the businesses and jobs we need. And we need stronger measures in the forthcoming Local Plan to enable planning committees to better express the city’s needs in relation to the ambitions of private development.

It’s not just about new builds

But, although new build and proposed developments tend to grab the headlines, we should not forget that even 2,000 new homes per year is roughly equivalent to 1% of Bristol’s existing housing stock.

Bristol’s existing housing stock is increasingly dominated by the private rented sector which provides houses to live in for roughly a third of our residents and roughly 60,000 properties, often in circumstances that fail to offer the long-term stability that help turns a house into a home.

The cost of renting has exploded over the last decade. Data collected by the Office for National Statistics shows that average rent across all dwellings in Bristol has gone up from £731 in 2011 to £1196 in 2021 – well over 50%. For a two-bed private rented property in Bristol in March last year this was £1,114, compared to £729 in 2011.

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Have standards gone up as the money has poured in? Have they heck. We’re all familiar with the horror stories – run down properties and absentee landlords who don’t need to give a reason for an eviction, that make renting in the city a roll of the dice.

The market is broken, and we can’t rely on government to fix it. We’re still waiting on a Renters Reform Bill first announced in 2019 and even if this comes to pass, aside from scrapping Section 21 (no-fault evictions) it’s likely to be little more than window dressing. In Bristol, Greens are clear that we need well thought out rent controls to stabilise spiralling rents and drive up standards, but we need to look closer to home to get us moving in the right direction.

The first step must be to take stock of the shape of the private rented sector in the city. An estimated 60,000 properties, but with only 10,000 of them licensed, means we don’t know who is letting out what – and in what condition. (Read about the licensing schemes already in place in Bristol and new ones that have just been introduced here)

A citywide landlord licensing scheme would set out clear property standards and simplify the system. It could fund a vastly improved Private Housing Team, with the power to enforce standards, and provide support to tenants and landlords. This database of landlords could be made public facing, and flag those who have been served enforcement notices – similar to one already existing in London.

Once we know who’s in the game, we can monitor further interventions down the line and really develop our proposals for stabilising rents in the city. We could ask government for powers to cap the rate of increase to inflation +1% – the same way we manage council house rents. We could link this to a property rather than a tenancy, to close the loophole around kicking tenants out to raise rents. Why not add a clause that the rate of increase can go above 1% higher than inflation once every five years if you can demonstrate investment in the property such as improving insulation or amenities?

Clearly, the scope is wide. Wrestling those powers from Westminster is a tall order, but we could and should start working with what we’ve already got.

Councillor Tony Dyer is the Green shadow cabinet member for housing, and Tom Hathway is the Green councillor for Clifton Down.

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Comments

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  • There are two different issues.
    Poorly maintained rental properties ( privately AND publicly owned) with very high rents AND a massive shortage of houses.
    The suggested measures make some sense but they will not solve the huge shortfall in rental accommodation
    Make the rent as cheap as you like and gold plate all properties there still won’t be enough.
    We have to tackle the ever increasing population in Bristol
    Yes it’s a great city but it can only take so much.
    There must be a cap on the number of students and incoming professionals should be discouraged.
    They are having a huge impact on the quality of life of everyday Bristolians.
    If not there is no hope.
    Make them feel uncomfortable. There’s loads of other places they can go.
    Bristol cannot take any more!!!

    Reply

  • These councillors are kidding themselves: a change in government is the only way to rebalance the housing market to support renters over the long term – and that will take time.

    The city council have just launched a new property licensing scheme giving renters greater protection – but I guess this wasnt their idea so they dont mention it.

    And the suggestion that “incoming professionals should be discouraged”: does this include doctors, nurses and teachers I wonder?

    Reply

  • I think we have plenty of everyone. Doctors, nurses, teachers included.
    We are not lacking anyone. There’s just too many people after too few houses.
    Maybe a few less” middle class creatives” wouldn’t be a bad thing.
    Less “art space” and more homes.
    The landlords licence scheme means that for around £1500 every two years you get someone around to inspect your property.
    I think “ licence” is Latin for “ tax”. If you think that this scheme is going to help much your kidding yourself.
    BCC who run the scheme would be better off spending time on inspecting their own, poorly maintained housing stock.

    Reply

  • Something EVERYONE is forgetting…..Landlords are leaving the sector in their thousands, this includes Bristol, due to the new regulations in the White paper…how many landlords would be happy with a situation whereby a tenant can only be evicted for unpaid rent if they have not paid for two months in the previous 3 years, this effectively means that a tenant can have 6 months free rent in 3 years without any redress!

    Also a landlord will not be able to say no to a pet, I had tenants move out last year who did £2500 worth of damage after 11 months, including having an unauthorised cat which shredded the carpets in the bedrooms, hallway and stairs, their deposit didn’t even cover half of the cost of sorting out all the damage. There are just so many clauses that are against the landlord- far too many to list here, it will not be feasible to be a small private sector landlord….You know the old adage ‘Be careful what you wish for’ because if this white paper does go through in its current form, there will be even less decent properties to rent making the current situation even worse.

    Landlords who have decided to stay in the PRS are putting their rents up to help cover themselves, and others like me are selling, so two more families in Bristol will be shortly looking for accommodation…TAKE NOTE BCC, you think its bad now, just wait, things are about to get a whole lot worse.

    Reply

  • Let’s look at it from a different angle. Some councils in Bristol are now charging £1,420 for the privilege of a licence to rent out a property as an HMO, basically a flat share. What does the landlord get for his money. Zero. What has happened? HMO’s have virtually disappeared in these areas, and those that haven’t will be looking at higher rent to cover the council money grab. But hey, Dyer and Hathway aren’t responsible, it’s always the evil landlord.

    Reply

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