There is an ever- deepening housing crisis where demand outstrips the supply of decent and affordable homes. There has been a sharp rise in mortgage rates over the past two years, following 14 consecutive interest rate increases by the Bank of England, and this is putting many more home buyers into arrears. Against this background we continue our 3 part series on housing in the UK today. In the first part, we examined how we got here. In this one we discuss the problems for millions of people unable to buy a home and find themselves scrambling for a roof over their heads in the private rental sector. Finally we will examine the key role of social housing and changes within one large Housing Association.
Part 2: Talking to Generation Rent
The private rental sector is the fastest growing area of the UK housing market, doubling in size over the last 20 years. It now makes up 4.6 million or 19% of households. Last year saw the biggest rise in rents ever, with accommodation in some cities increasing by 22 per cent. In this article, we share the experiences of young people trying to make a home in Bristol. The city’s Mayor, Marvin Rees, comments that “The way the housing market is going at the moment is not working for ordinary people. We have a situation in which hospitals and schools – vital employees (sic) – are struggling to recruit and retain staff, it’s a city that is becoming increasingly unaffordable to live in.”
The Lure of Bristol
A regional employment hub, with opportunities in the creative and tech sectors, and as the gateway to southwestern England, and with its beautiful surroundings, Bristol continues to attract people from all over. Some are fleeing London for more affordable houses to buy and are drawn by Bristol’s distinctive and energetic ‘hip culture’. “The vibrant music and arts scene, its cultural diversity and cool vibe are what attracted me to the city,” says Eloise, who moved from Gloucestershire two years ago. With two universities, many choose to stay in Bristol after graduation. However, this surge of demand has had an adverse effect on both the cost of houses and on the rental sector. In the last few years, house prices there have risen significantly and the rise in interest rates has made buying even a modest home unaffordable for many young people, putting even more pressure on the overheated rental market.
Residential rental costs have increased by the fastest annual rate since records began seven years ago, while UK house prices have slowed to the lowest in a decade, according to ONS official data published recently. In the year to August 2023, rents jumped by 12 per cent on average across the UK, say estate agents, Hamptons.
Bristol is now understood to be the most expensive city outside London in which to rent.
“There is little social housing – from roughly a third of Bristol’s housing in the 1980s, it is now just 20% – while buy-to-let investors have squeezed the market, and student housing developments are cannibalising sites.”Guardian
|Total properties for rent in Bristol:||688|
|Properties for rent in Bristol listed in the last 14 days:||318|
|Mean* property rents in Bristol:||£2,075 pcm|
|Median* rent:||£1,785 pcm|
Properties for Rent in Bristol by Price
|No. of properties|
|Rent under £250 pcm||2|
|£250 to £500 pcm rent||2|
|£500 to £1,000 pcm rent||69|
|£1,000 to £2,000 pcm rent||349|
|£2,000 to £5,000 pcm rent||247|
|Rent over £5,000 pcm||19|
Property Rents in Bristol by Type
|No. of properties||Mean rent||Median rent|
|Room||26||£1,353 pcm||£925 pcm|
|Flat||340||£1,973 pcm||£1,650 pcm|
|House||285||£2,271 pcm||£1,875 pcm|
Here is a snapshot of current prices and availability from home,co.uk:
Generation Rent Nightmare
Several young professionals recount the trials and tribulations of renting in the city.
Two friends in their twenties, Will and Josh, decided to make the move to Bristol earlier this year. Both had previously needed to move back in with their parents after college, as they found it impossible to meet rent and living costs in London. This is what they discovered when they first tried to find a rental in the city. Despite booking two nights’ accommodation to be on the spot for viewings, when they rang estate agents, they found themselves at the end of a long phone queue that was eating up their phone credit. Once they did get through, invariably the property had gone. For the few properties still available, typically they were told that they could not view beforehand, but had to decide there and then, and in some cases were asked to provide a non-refundable deposit over the phone to secure the accommodation. They returned home empty handed, utterly dejected and demoralised after this initial foray. Properties are so scarce in Bristol, rents so high, and the competition so fierce that only the most determined, robust and cash-ready survive the course. Ultimately, they did find a property but only because they found an agent who let them view first (hard to find) and then they had to pay the most extortionate rent. They are still looking for an affordable alternative.
Eloise, a young teacher, soon realised that she could not afford to buy or rent alone and needed to look for a house share. This proved to be hair-raising at first, a process which was as rigorous as a job interview and involved some decidedly creepy propositions from landlords and some demanding potential house mates. “I felt very vulnerable when I was looking, as a young woman on my own. It felt unsafe.”
She was shocked at the condition of some of the rentals she encountered with damp and mildew on the ceilings and walls, back yards full of rotting rubbish, and broken furniture. After a couple of months, staying in Airbnbs, returning home at weekends and in the school holidays was very costly and dispiriting. Finally, she was offered a room in a colleague’s house which is her only current option. She is considering moving back to her home town now and leaving a job she loves.
For ‘Bristol Local’ this is his second attempt at settling in Bristol. He has a great job in the creative sector now but, once again, has found it difficult to find a place to call home in the city. This is what he told me:
“Finding accommodation in Bristol, as in any city, is an absolute joke particularly in this post pandemic, current ‘cost-of-living crisis’ world. I was looking for a house for well over a month, most of the time I never got a reply. Because landlords have so much power, renters are forced to choose properties that have mould and are in a poor state of repair. You are just told to keep all the windows open in your room. There are so many rules on what you can and can’t do, it’s difficult to make the place you are living in a home. You don’t even have any security; you can be served with a ‘no fault eviction notice’ at any time.”
“When it comes to owning a home, my generation has more or less given up on that dream. Unless we have rich parents or have a relative that leaves us money when they die, we can’t even save a deposit. The average rent takes at least a third of your pay and if you are only earning say £25K per year, adding in food and energy costs, there’s not much left to even have some sort of social life. It would take many years to save a deposit, by which time the market will have changed again. Much like many things our parents achieved, owning your own home is a pipe dream which no amount of ‘not buying avocados’ will fix. I don’t see any light at the end of the tunnel. None of the political parties is offering real solutions. Generation Rent for many decades to come, I fear.”
Controls, caps and resources to build more.
There doesn’t seem to be much hope on the horizon for the millions of people who rent privately, at least from government. Michael Gove’s promise to bring in protections for renters, which was in the 2019 Tory manifesto, has not yet materialised. At the heart of this was bringing an end to no fault evictions. These continue to rise. There is no sign of any achievable plan by central government to tackle the housing crisis or build sufficient affordable homes for rent. Bristol City Council has set up The Living Rent Commission comprising representatives from across the housing sector, including renters, to explore the issues facing people who rent and options to tackle the rent crisis in the city. In a previous article in West England Bylines, Julian Greenbank reported on a vote to ask Westminster for the powers to regulate private renters and cap renting costs to bring in rent controls in the city. However, government intervention is needed to make significant improvements for renters, to better regulate the wild west of the rental sector and to provide the resources to build affordable homes.
Next: What a housing association can achieve.
(The Views expressed here are those of the author)