Housing in Bristol: what the local people say

Housing in Bristol: what the local people say

Back in 2020, here in our Bristol hub, we ran our ‘Home Truths’ listening campaign to ask local people what issues they face with their housing, and how they’d improve things if they were mayor of Bristol.

People from across the city, all living in different housing situations, took part in various ways. But their voices were united and their message clear: our local housing system is broken and we must fix it.

One major issue raised was the unaffordability, insecurity and discrimination that people renting (or trying to rent) privately face. But the private renters involved in our campaign are taking a stand! They literally put the writing on the wall by collaborating with local artist Benoît Bennet and The People’s Republic of Stokes Croft to create a public mural exposing the realities of renting in Bristol. They also spoke out on the community-led Home Truths podcast, created by storyteller Polly Tisdall and The Network.

Graffiti showing the words 'Discrimination and risk of eviction', and a quote which reads 'We're worried about getting moved out if we complain'

This all started when we first asked people to tell us about their housing, on a frosty January Monday in The Galleries shopping centre. Here’s what they said…

Hearing our city’s Home Truths

During our campaign, we reached out to people right across the city. We shared a survey on social media, and via e-bulletins and updates sent out by local unions and community groups. We also shared information about the campaign in a flyer sent out in food parcels.

Before the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, we talked face-to-face with people at local events and meetings. These included the Blue Monday Advice Fair in The Galleries, our Bristol Hub drop-in and women’s roundtable, the South Bristol Advice Centre benefits drop-in at the Hartcliffe and Withywood Community Partnership, and 1625 Independent People youth ambassadors’ meetings.

We also chatted with people on the phone and at online meetings, such as our renters’ rights workshops and women’s action group meetings.

A local resident talking to us at one of our Home Truths stands in Bristol

Thank you to everyone who spoke out and shared their Home Truths, and to everyone who supported us to reach out to communities.

In total, we had 279 responses to our survey, and spoke with 82 people face-to-face, online, and on the phone.

Many people who took part in the campaign were private renters. However we also heard from people who rent from the council or housing associations, people who are homeless (which includes living in temporary accommodation, sofa surfing, sleeping rough, or staying in a refuge), and homeowners.

They told us about a range of housing problems, though three major issues emerged…

#1: Private rents are out of control

People are struggling to afford the high cost of rents, and are fearful of the rent being increased. This is a particular issue for those renting, or trying to rent privately in Bristol.

I was made redundant just before virus hit so am on universal credit. Rent is an issue. I have to borrow every month to make up shortfall.

Private renter, Easton

‘High prices with limited space. Rented room is so small for the price I pay.’
– Private renter, Bedminster

‘Rental price goes up every year – never capped. Looking to move but can’t because prices are now £1,000+, which is insane.’
– Private renter, Cotham

‘Cost of rent is nearly 50% of earnings without bills. Landlord wants to raise the rent.’
– Private renter, Montpelier   

#2: Renters are living in poor conditions and at risk of losing their homes

People are living in poor conditions, and often in properties with severe disrepair and poor accessibility. This was raised by people living in a range of housing situations, but most commonly by private renters.

Some experience uncooperative landlords and letting agents, and illegal behaviour. This includes harassment, charges, and unsafe maintenance works.

And people feel insecure in their housing. They are reluctant to ask their landlord to do repairs, in case they increase the rent or evict them. Both of these issues were raised by private renters, and by those who used to rent privately but are now homeless.

‘Illegal behaviour – no tenancy agreement, but paid £800 deposit and then landlord asked me and my child to move out, because they wanted to rent to someone else. I was pregnant at the time.’

Person who is homeless, Bristol

‘Shower not working for three years.’
– Private renter, Redfield

‘Housing benefit still doesn’t cover my studio basement, even after the £200 increase. My home isn’t suitable for my disabilities. Waiting five years for council house that works with my disabilities.’
– Private renter, St Andrews

‘Damp and rain leaking inside the house. An oven we turn on with pliers (no knobs). Mouldy and warped kitchen cabinets.’
– Private renter, Easton

‘Landlord asked us to leave at end of tenancy… he couldn’t file Section 21 because he didn’t protect deposit. So we’re still here but I worry that he will try and evict us anyway one day.’
– Private renter, Bedminster

‘Can’t get out of tenancies without having pay to a lot of money. Mounting rent arrears due to coronavirus (COVID-19) and risk of eviction.’
– Person who is homeless, Bristol

Bristol residents holding up signs that display their home truths

#3: Discrimination stops people from renting and causes homelessness

People struggle to find homes because they’re experiencing discrimination around their type and level of income, age, sex, disability and single parent status.

Other reported barriers included not being able to afford upfront costs and deposits, poor attitudes toward debt, the Bedroom Tax (especially for single parents who have more than one child of a similar age), and not being able to find a landlord who accepts pets. People who are homeless in particular raised discrimination as a specific concern.

‘If I were to move, it would be very hard to find a new place. I am a single mum, so not preferred by private landlords, but not in any way a priority for a council house.’

Private renter, St George

‘A lot of landlords won’t rent to anyone receiving housing benefit. I’m disabled and can’t work at the moment. This policy discriminates against disabled people and people on low incomes [and] makes it hard to move when people need to. I kept living with an emotionally abusive housemate for two years because it took me so long to find somewhere else to live.’
– Housing cooperative renter, Easton

‘Ban estate agents/landlords from specifying no DSS! (if possible). Credit checks would still be done. Income from benefits should just be counted as any other income.’
– Private renter, Bedminster

‘Large deposits create an extra barrier for unemployed and those facing homelessness.’
– Person who is homeless, Bristol

Other barriers to accessing housing in Bristol

Other people who are, or have recently been homeless and live in Bristol also said:

  • There is not enough social housing, and people experience delays in being re-housed in suitable, secure accommodation. People described a ‘constant feeling of being in a temporary situation, not really “at home”‘
  • Temporary and emergency accommodation are often poor quality and not suitable, especially for families
  • The Home Choice system is confusing and disjointed, and there is a lack of transparency about banding criteria (and who meets it)
  • There is a lack of appropriate supported accommodation, and people face challenges with shared accommodation. For example, those experiencing complex trauma are expected to live under one roof
  • There is a lack of understanding about people’s complex needs and circumstances. This was raised in particular by women who have experienced domestic abuse and violence, or relationship breakdown, and did not get the housing support they needed from the council

What needs to change?

During the campaign, there were four key changes that people said would help, and that they would introduce if they were mayor of Bristol:

  1. Control rents and rent increases
  2. Build more social housing
  3. Increase funding for homeless shelters
  4. Give renters more rights

‘Rent caps to keep overall housing costs down, since buy-to-let landlords push up prices for everyone. Build enough social housing to keep pace with demand. Fund green upgrades for existing housing stock, such as insulation and community energy projects.’

Homeowner, Easton

‘More affordable accommodation for low-income households. Low-income households are being forced out of the city centre neighbourhoods and being denied access to all that brings with it, jobs, culture, healthcare, accessibility of services etc.’
– Private renter, Easton

‘More social housing is needed. Waiting lists for housing are too long. Communication (from housing association) is shocking – this needs to be more direct. If people are waiting to be housed, they should always be provided with temporary accommodation.’
– Person who is homeless, Stoke Bishop

Other suggestions people made included:

  • holding landlords and letting agents accountable
  • cracking down on discrimination
  • creating extended tenancies and more security for renters
  • increasing regulation and protections in the private rented sector
  • raising Local Housing Allowance levels to be in line with local rents

What next?

Renters, and people impacted by the broken private renting system, are coming together to campaign for a fair renting system in Bristol. And, with support from Shelter Bristol and other local organisations, they are launching a manifesto demanding urgent change.

Watch out for the Bristol Fair Renting Manifesto at the end of March. Read it, sign it, and share it to stand in solidarity with us and demand a fair renting system for Bristol.

Are you a private renter in Bristol?

Not sure of your rights? Come along to one of our online workshops to get some free housing advice. Learn where you stand when it comes to eviction notices, joint tenancies, deposits and deductions, or getting repairs done, or have questions you’d like ask our advisers.

Upcoming dates:

6–7pm, Thursday 25 March – register here

6–7pm, Thursday 22 April – register here

4–5pm, Thursday 20 May – register here

6–7pm, Thursday 17 June – register here

If you need urgent housing advice, please call our Bristol Hub on 0344 515 1430.