It’s that time of year again. The ‘Private Housing Event’ invitation has appeared on Facebook, your housemates are suspiciously quiet about that looming deadline to renew your tenancy, and the thought of going through the whole process again makes you even more nauseous than that seventh snakebite you had at Reynolds the previous evening.
As the number of outright home owners in the U.K. has fallen drastically, along with a moderate decline in the social rented sector, the number of people relying on private renting has risen sharply.
There are now more than nine million people living in private rented accommodation in England. It is neither particularly secure, nor financially sensible, and often compared to effectively burning money. Recently, the number of homeless households in the U.K. has risen to more than 50,000; all of this serves as a damning indictment of the sheer lack of capacity in the housing system. We desperately need a long-term solution.
So what is the long-term solution? Somebody with the most basic grasp of economics will tell you that there is a failure of the balance between supply and demand in the U.K. housing market. The position of the two main political parties, the Conservatives and Labour, is to build 200,000 more homes by 2020, but this is juxtaposed with a report published by the House of Lords, citing a need for 300,000 new homes to be built in this Parliament. No government has built enough homes for decades now.
As the nation desperately grapples with the need to chase the increasing levels of demand through huge infrastructure developments, the only solution for people on low incomes is to seek social housing – the only option left available at a reasonable price. But with 1.8 million people currently on the waiting lists for social housing and local authorities allocating it with a needs-based approach, students are very rarely included in such schemes. This leaves only the private sector.
But for students in particular, the private rented sector can present unique challenges and be daunting in its complexity. The astronomical fees that letting agents charge, frankly odious conditions some landlords expect you to live in purely on account of being a student, and trouble of finding a guarantor for your tenancy agreement can all burden people with unnecessary levels of stress as they house-hunt. In London especially, where the costs are so inflated and continue to soar even now, it feels increasingly like we have no control or voice.
Schemes such as Share and Care and Homeshare UK have popped up in recent years – their aim being to match people looking for affordable accommodation with elderly people in need of support and company. Increasing numbers of students are turning to them as a solution to see them through their studies.
At Imperial specifically, last year College announced its plans to act as a guarantor for international students seeking accommodation from second year onwards – preventing them from having to pay three to six months of rent in advance. Last year, a large group of Imperial students attended a massive event as part of the London Mayoral Election in association with CitizensUK to quiz candidates on their pledges for students going forward.
One of the key pledges coming out of the CitizensUK event was Sadiq Khan’s focus on affordable housing for Londoners. Over the next four and a half years £3.15 billion will be invested in building 90,000 new homes specifically in London. Students will be particularly happy to see that 58,000 of these are to be reserved as “London Living Wage” dwellings targeted at people on low incomes. Meanwhile, his draft Supplementary Planning Guidance aims to streamline the planning process for new housing projects. All of this is long overdue to deal with the problems Londoners face, and more needs to be done to ensure students are able to claim their fair share of the new homes.
The housing crisis is a deeply-rooted issue in our society – the result of decades of under-investment in new developments. Students have been forced to burden an unfair share of the consequences that stem from this. But hope may be on the horizon, with our new Mayor pledging to deliver genuinely affordable homes for all Londoners. I can only hope all students are included in that too.