Dispatches from the housing crisis frontline | Letters

Readers cite a range of factors contributing to the problem, including standards in regeneration schemes and housing for older tenants, but some landlords do try to do the right thing

Rev Paul Nicolson (Letters, 17 April) is quite right to identify parliamentary landlordism as a contributory factor in the growing housing crisis, but I fear the problem may be worse than he suggests. Despite containing some positive measures, the Homelessness Reduction Act, which came into force on 3 April, could more accurately be termed the Landlord Enrichment Act. As local authorities struggle to meet their new homelessness prevention and relief duties without any corresponding increase in social housing or any reversal of the government’s welfare reform programme, it is perhaps inevitable that councils would turn to private landlords for their help, but that doesn’t make it any less galling.

Many private sector landlords are about to be inundated with financial incentives designed to induce them to let to people in severe housing need. In the name of necessity, local housing authorities are about to line the pockets of obliging landlords with deposits, rent guarantees, upfront rental payments and benefit top-ups, while renters will still be left struggling to meet their market rents in assured shorthold tenancies that rarely offer more than six months’ security.
Graham Sharp
Mistley, Essex

• Kate Macintosh’s defence of Parker Morris standards (Letters, 17 April) highlights the loss of social housing meeting these standards from “regeneration schemes” in some London boroughs. There is a love affair between some Labour councillors and the private sector but, as in Lambeth, most lack the political and managerial skills to negotiate sensible deals. Cuts and privatisation have stripped out the experienced professional officers who could. Lambeth council seems disconnected from its communities. Its proposals, and the technical and financial facts on which they are based, to replace popular estates with “shoe boxes” are strongly contested. Tenants resolutely reject them. Herbert Morrison’s London county council flats remain immensely popular for good reason.

This Lambeth Labour approach is not confined to housing. As a member of a community trust I spent five years developing proposals to take asset transfer ownership of the Herne Hill Carnegie library for a community hub. It cost us £100k in technical fees and years of volunteer work. Lambeth then simply decided to give its leisure service provider, Greenwich Leisure Ltd, a free lease on much of the building, and £1.5m free capital works, for a membership gym. This destroyed the viability of our plan. Our Grade II-listed community building has effectively been privatised.

The government must plug gaps in the legislation that encourages communities to embark on asset transfer but allows councils like Lambeth to shift the goalposts to subvert them. Lambeth’s action on this, as on many of its housing proposals, is ideological and indefensible.
Fred Taggart

• Despite the fact that housing is a top priority for the main contenders in May’s local elections, something has evidently slipped the Tory party’s mind with a planning application to develop Peabody housing association properties in Earl’s Court for market sales and “affordable intermediate” homes for general needs, rather than their present purpose of housing low-income pensioners. There are still 13 residents left in the Earl’s Court properties, including an 80-year-old man. The decant process has been chaotic and the options given to residents not fit for purpose, one being that they could retire to a home by the sea.

Kensington and Chelsea is a prime example of how the older resident market has become a profitable one, with the sale of the council’s Thamesbrook extra care home to be converted into high-cost extra care, and the Heythrop College proposal – both out of the reach of the majority of residents apart from the most affluent. Housing associations have become developers and have forgotten the reason why they were set up in the first place: to provide homes for those on lower incomes and, in the case of Peabody, low-income pensioners.
Cllr Linda Wade
Liberal Democrat, Earl’s Court ward, Kensington and Chelsea council

• This week’s report on long-term renting highlights a growing challenge for the UK (A third of today’s young adults will never own their home, says study, 17 April). The Resolution Foundation is right to raise the issue of a future problem, but the truth is that the private rental sector is already failing older people in the UK. It has the highest proportion of poor-quality housing of any tenure type, and short-term tenancies and higher levels of disrepair make adapting these homes to help people cope with mobility issues as they age difficult.

This is despite the fact that by age 65, 16% of people will have difficulty with at least one “activity of daily living” (washing, dressing etc), increasing to 50% of those aged 85 and over. Housing can be easily – and relatively cheaply – adapted to make it fit for purpose, and we know that low-cost adaptations and repairs have a huge impact on the individual and on health and social care cost, but regulations and local enforcement powers need to be applied more vigorously to tackle landlords who don’t maintain their properties or help to meet tenants’ health needs.
Rachael Docking
Senior evidence manager, Centre for Ageing Better

• Re Rhik Samadder’s column (Landlords are social parasites. They don’t deserve any awards, G2, 16 April), the Ethical Landlords Association was set up as a response to the knock-on effects on the rental sector of our dysfunctional housing situation. ELA accredits “good” private landlords who wish to display “basic human decency”, who offer long-term tenancies, who commit to prompt repairs, and who refrain from “revenge evictions”. A star rating is given to landlords who are able to charge below market rates (though landlords often incur huge costs themselves).

There are many accidental or reluctant landlords, like your reader who let when they moved and were unable to sell (Letters, 18 April). Others inherit a property, or deliberately become landlords to secure a pension. We are not all social parasites. The ELA exists to help landlords do the right thing by their tenants, hence the strapline “because it’s a home, not just a property”. ELA can be contacted through ethicallandlords.org.uk, and welcomes new members.
Alastair Cameron
Publicity secretary, ELA

• We have been letting our basement flat for 50 years. We calculate the rent we charge by ringing the local authority and asking how much they would expect to pay for a one-bedroom flat for someone on benefits. This seems a good way to estimate a fair rent. The government should turn this system of rent control into law.
Selma Montford

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