The government’s continuing commitment to building new homes is welcome. But if we want to build ‘homes and not just houses’ then we will also need to focus on how to give more security to the private tenants who will occupy them.
It’s easy for the debate about building new homes to become a big numbers game. The risk is talking about building tens or hundreds of thousands of homes is too abstract and inhuman.
So when he was announcing the new package of measures to get building moving at Conservative Party Conference yesterday, Sajid Javid humanised it with this impassioned plea:
“We need to remember that it’s not simply houses that we’re building. It’s homes. It’s places for people to live in, to grow, to raise a family. We’re not just putting roofs over heads; we’re creating communities.”
Sajid Javid MP, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government
We couldn’t agree more. Shelter was founded on the idea that ‘home’ is so much more than just a place to sleep at night.
And it’s why we’ve been heaping the pressure on government to increase levels of house building – because building is an essential part of making sure everyone has a place where they can live, grow old, bring up kids and become part of their community.
But it’s not the only part.
The minister’s plea has striking parallels with the blog post Rachel wrote for us recently on what it’s like to bring up a child in the private rented sector:
“We are on a rolling contract so are permanently two months away from moving. It is a horrible way to live. It never feels like home, and the anxiety it causes is immense. You don’t feel you can be part of the community as you never know when you might have to go. The more you put in, the more upset you are to lose it.”
Rachel, a renting mother who contacted Shelter about our campaign for more secure renting
For Rachel, and far too many private renters like her, the place they’re privately renting doesn’t feel like a home because it’s fundamentally insecure. This is because the law only gives private renters a minimum of six months’ security from being forced to move for no reason and with only two months’ notice.
This is obviously a problem in the housing stock that already exists, but it is also a problem in many of the new homes that get built and that we are planning to build. This is because one in four new build homes go straight into the private rented sector. That’s a level even higher than for existing homes.
The fact that these quarter of new builds are fundamentally insecure means building makes less of a contribution to that vision of creating new communities than it could. Even as we build more houses and flats, many will be occupied by people who never feel like they have a stake in their community, who only ever feel like their living in a short term stopgap.
The good news is that compared to increasing house building, this is a problem that’s easy to solve.
Of course, part of the answer is in building a higher proportion of genuinely secure and affordable homes, like social rented homes. But we also need to accept that the private rented sector is an increasingly important mix of the homes that get built, so we need to reform how secure it is too.
There are some ways of trying to do this without legal change. The last government put serious effort into getting more landlords to voluntarily give their tenants more security. But even with this effort, a vanishingly small minority of tenants have the security that the need to be able to plan and make a stable home.
Fundamentally, the only way we can make sure that every renter occupying a new home has security is by changing the law.
The experience from our neighbouring countries show that that this is possible – and our own research shows that it can be done.
There is now a brilliant opportunity for the government to supercharge the power of new building to deliver new communities, by giving private renting families the security they need.