27 October 2013

We now have a report for Shelter which shows that “conditions in homes for people privately renting in the southwest are too often damp, cold, dangerous or in a bad state of repair”. The Shelter report says that 45 percent of people renting in the southwest are “living in bad housing”.

The southwest includes Cornwall of course.

The number of people in Cornwall who are living in privately rented homes, good and bad, has shot up by 49.5 percent in the last ten years to more than 77 000 (2001 census -2011 census); the number of households in private rented properties has increased by 35 percent over that time. This is a sizable group of people here.

Shelter stresses that the majority of private landlords treat their tenants fairly.

Shelter reports that it has seen cases of families living in homes with dangerous levels of damp, mould, and disrepair; and a failure to carry out repairs and poor conditions in the house has adversely affected the health of one in eight private renters in the southwest.

Does not everyone agree with Shelter chief executive Campbell Robb when he says, “Families should never be forced to live in a place where their health and well-being is at risk” ?

What should be done
This means dealing effectively with rogue landlords and building many more decent affordable houses for locals to rent and buy – mostly rent given the prices now.

Does Cornwall Council have an effective, coordinated policy to deal with the minority of rogue landlords and unsuitable private rented properties?

Cornwall housing waiting list and hidden housing need
I expect many of the afflicted tenants are on the Cornwall council housing waiting list (Cornwall homechoice housing register) and this is an aspect I wish to look at now.

There are good reasons why many people who are already housed are on the waiting list and in need of affordable housing. They live, as Shelter points out, in unsuitable private housing, unsafe and unhealthy; they live with their parents or friends; they live in temporary or short-term accommodation; they live in houses too small for their families. These are people with hidden housing needs, more difficult to see than someone living in a tent in the woods. Read the two relevant observations on hidden housing need from the Penwith local plan and ONS statistics that I have put in the Notes at the foot of this post.

The hidden housing need challenges the arguments that seek to minimise the scale of housing need in Cornwall and consequently the number of new builds required, suggesting that the Cornwall council waiting list overstates need and that people on it are already housed.

The waiting list – 29 000 now – is an imperfect and rough and ready measure of affordable need but the downscaling arguments seem to disregard hidden housing need.

Let me end with three questions.

Should we not take account of hidden housing needs in any measure of how many affordable homes are needed?

If we wish to build only affordable houses for locals, how will we avoid building single-tenure estates, the council estate redivivus?

The government has shrunk its grants for affordable housing. If any cross-subsidy from new-build open market houses is ruled out, will that not shrink the available money for building affordable houses further?

The report gives details of the data.

Shelter defined bad housing as houses that do not meet the government’s Decent Homes Standard or houses that are overcrowded.

The Natcen report for Shelter is largely based on the Department of Communities and Local Government English Housing Survey and the Health Survey for England.

The 2001 census data is in questions UV43 and UV 63, The 2011 census data is in questions QS403EW and QS405EW. I have used the renting figures for private landlords and letting agencies and excluded private renting from family or friends or employers.

See too this report Through young eyes (October 2013) from the Children’s Society about children’s experience of housing. [This link was added 29 October 2013]

The report The condition of private sector housing stock in the south west region (March 2009) from the South West Regional Assembly is also relevant. It shows that 55 percent of private sector housing in Cornwall was ‘non-decent’. The survey found 12 percent of all private sector housing in Cornwall was rented.[Added 29 October 2013]

Penwith (Cornwall) district council local plan :
To establish the extent of housing need Penwith council had several surveys made including a district-wide one in 1995-1996: “The surveys indicate that, generally, the need for ‘affordable housing is considerably greater that that indentified by the housing waiting list” (8.3.6).

“Nearly one third of all households in need [of housing] were concealed within other households…ie they were individuals, families, or groups who were seeking accommodation separately from the rest of the household” (8.3.78).

Look at ONS Reference Table 7 (31 October 2013) here which shows a noticeable increase in multi-family households. [Added 1 November 2013]

Here is a Commons debate looking at some of the issues on private renting, including existing local authority powers: Private Landlords and letting and Managing Agents (Regulation) Bill (Hansard 25 October 2013 column 559-625)

DCLG to publish further guidance on how councils can tackle rogue landlords (17 October 2013)

Dealing with rogue landlords: a guide for Local authorities (DCLG, August 2012)