Guest Blog: Renting is the only game in town

There are signs all around that the housing market is changing. I’ve lost count of conversations with friends about how they’d like to buy a place but just can’t. When I walk down my local high street I see a huge number of estate agents but not a lot of choice: homes that are either crazy expensive or have ‘NO DSS!’ signs emblazoned in the windows.

Here, our guest blogger – the excellent Kathleen Kelly – reflects on two pieces of research that show how housing is changing for young people today – and what it might look like in the future…

Kathleen Kelly is a Programme Manager at the Joseph Rowntree Foundation

Two reports this week have highlighted the changing pattern of housing – one looking specifically at young people’s housing choices in 2020  and the other looking at the impact of economic scenarios on housing in 2025. Despite their different approaches they come up with strikingly similar messages – a decline in home ownership and an increase in private renting.

Housing options and solutions for 2020 shows that an extra 1.5 million people under 30 will be living in an already badly functioning private rented sector by 2020. That includes many young families who would have previously bought their own home or rented it from a social landlord. It’s not that private landlords are all bad; it’s that the system wasn’t set up as a long term option for families or others who need more stable housing.

What worries me most is what this means for those who already struggle to compete at the bottom end of private renting; or worse still who find themselves homeless. The 400,000 young people, including families, who will be on this bottom rung of the housing ladder in 2020, will find themselves increasingly locked out of an already dysfunctional market.

Finding tenancies is one thing. Keeping them is another. Even if you find a landlord who can get past the issue of you being young you’ll probably face a raft of issues. You’ll probably come unstuck either at the ‘no housing benefit’ hurdle or the fact that you can’t produce references or that there’s simply not enough shared housing available where you live.

There’s a range of things that can be done to help. More local lettings agencies can help to broker tenancies between landlords and young people, building positive relations and opening up access to better locations. There are already good examples of this, including helping people to find sharers. Social landlords offering more shared tenancies would also be a real help in places where there aren’t enough shared houses.

All great stuff but it’s still just tinkering around the edges of a system that doesn’t work. If we are to avoid tomorrow’s homelessness disaster we need stronger political leadership – one that will be brave enough to broker the conversation with landlords about the incentives they need to offer longer term tenancies at lower rents. Much as many young people want flexibility this doesn’t work for young families or those needing local support services.

If we want to avoid a scenario where some young people are locked out of housing altogether we’ve got to act now.