With rents in Brighton and Hove on the rise and affordable homes now out of reach for so many people – the question being asked is what can be done?
Caroline Lucas, MP for Brighton Pavilion, invited struggling residents and representatives from housing campaign groups to an event as she launched the draft of her housing charter calling for fairer rents, more housing and better regulation for landlords.
She described how it was “heartbreaking” to have hundreds of people approach her during her surgeries all telling similar stories of housing woes.
At the special hour-long session the floor was open for people to tell their stories of difficulties they have faced trying to find a home in Brighton and Hove – both from rising rents and house prices and facing difficulties with landlords.
The charter is being drawn up based on these accounts and will be presented to parliament – with the aim being for local ideas being used to tackle housing through a private members bill in the House of Commons.
The four demands Dr Lucas is putting forward in her draft are better quality in the private rented sector, more affordable housing, secure housing in the private rented sector and enough housing to meet the needs of new homes.
She said: “This isn’t rocket science: we need housing that doesn’t bust budgets. Housing that lets people put down roots. Housing that meets the need for new homes. Housing that can be called home. We need policies that put people first and a parliament that will listen to our needs.
“This housing charter is compiled from the experiences of hundreds of Brighton residents who have come to me over the years with what have often been heart-breaking and shocking housing problems.
“It seeks to address these issues and invites the people at the sharp end of our housing crisis to have their say and be part of the process.
“If you live in my constituency you get a say, and I want to know if anything’s missing.”
She added: “The reason I have taken this up so strongly is it is the most important issue in the city and when I look at my consistency surgeries the issue that comes up more than anything is poor housing.”
Attending the meeting was Bill Randall, chairman of the Brighton and Hove Housing Committee, and he said he “thoroughly endorsed” the charter and asked “who will house the poor?”
Mr Randall said: “The waiting list for council housing has about 18,500 names and there are the thick end of 150 street homeless people in Brighton and Hove and the Government has cut subsidies to the point it is impossible to build social housing.”
He added: “I have been involved in this a long time and for a long time all of this had gone to sleep and the passion had worn off for it.
“But I really welcome what Caroline is doing.”
He added: “I hope all of the groups of young people will come together with a single voice on this and all the political parties will too.
“The biggest problem in this city at the moment is housing and it is about people having somewhere to live.
“But a lack of housing also affects the economic prospects of the city as well.”
Betsy Dillner, from campaign group Generation Rent, was also sitting on the panel.
She said: “As the private rented sector has grown we see the need to create a national movement of tenants and we see that popping up all over the place here in Brighton – we see a fabric of people coming together to solve these issues.”
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'Heartbreaking seeing our children struggle'
Parents have told how they have to watch their children struggle as they battle with landlords and have little hope of buying a home.
Glenys and Douglas moved to Brighton one year ago after their children fell in love with the city, having attended university here.
Two of their children have now had no choice but to move back in with them as they simply cannot afford to either buy or rent in Brighton.
They said any hopes of their children owning a property before they are 25 has “gone”.
Glenys, who did not want to give her surname, said: “We are now having to look at whether we can afford to give them a deposit to get them started.
“That is where parents are today – they have to remortgage themselves to possibly give their children that start.
“I think it is dreadful but they have no choice.”
“At some point the bubble has to burst and prices have to start coming down again because if nobody is buying it will not be sustained – and in some ways as parents you hope that happens, so your kids have a chance.”
Douglas said: “This part of the south east is essentially unobtainable for first time buyers unless you have a pot of money to call on to act as a deposit.
“You have to have an income to afford to get a mortgage but most of them do not have the income.”
Glenys told how it was “heartbreaking” seeing her children struggle to get their feet onto the housing ladder.
She said: “As a parent of students coming into Brighton I think it is quite shocking some of the conditions they have to live in through being exposed to it through my sons – sometimes it is seven people in what should be a three or four bed house.”
She added: “We are quite happy where we are right now, we have a good landlord, but it is expensive – the most expensive we have ever experienced to rent.
“I cannot see how people would want to come into Brighton at this point because of the extortionate rental properties and it is great to see something being done about that.”
Another of their sons has managed to get on the property ladder in Scotland and they said he was “so happy” that he had managed to get a foot in the door of the market.
They pointed to Scotland as an example of how to deal with landlords – agreeing with proposals levied in the charter for a nationwide landlord registry.
Living with uncertainty
A mother told how despite living in the city for 14 years her growing family means her only option left is to move away – calling it “an ongoing nightmare”.
Helen, who did not want to give her surname, lives with her family in a two-bedroom house in the city at a rental cost of £1,120 per month but constantly feels “uncertainty” about the security of their home.
She said: “There's a constant underlying insecurity, a constant underlying daily worry because you don't know what is going to happen.
“You can't ever relax. We need long term tenancies. None of this-year-by year or six-month nonsense. We’re not able to decorate our children’s bedroom or make it our own home. Despite both her and her partner working in professional roles they are struggling to cope with their rent.
She said: “We have experienced multiple housing issues since living in Brighton both from the point of view of being a long-term renter and also as someone who would love to be able to buy but can’t afford to.
“We have moved five times in the 14 years of living in Brighton and our most recent move was when I was eight months pregnant with my second child and our existing landlord decided to sell the property.
“My six year old son has lived in three different properties since he was born.”
Helen added: “I live with uncertainty, I don’t know how the next few years will pan out.
“It is really stressful. You build relationships and friendships here but, at any moment, you might have to leave all that.”
“But we are going to have to leave Brighton unless something dramatically changes, we just can't afford to stay to put down family roots here.”
A second year student from Brighton University told of his own struggles renting and how he considers the future an “ominous” one for his hopes of getting a home.
Alex Martin, 20, a psychology and sociology student, expressed fears for his future prospects.
He said: “I think the future is very ominous and I think I will be in rented accommodation for a very, very long time.”
“I welcome the charter to introduce these regulations for landlords – we need something with teeth in it to help improve the situation.”
He added that any hopes of owning his own property any time soon could be dismissed as a pipe-dream and said if he had any hopes of owning a property he would have to move away from the area.
Mr Martin wsaid students in Brighton face more difficulties as – unlike students in London – they do not enjoy cost of living bonuses despite rents being comparable.
He said: “I get the same loans and grants as my friend in Sheffield who is paying half the rent so I think if you are going to let the housing market do what it wants you need to help students out.”
Labour party view
The Labour group in Brighton and Hove has also put forward proposals calling on a licensing scheme for landlords.
Labour unveiled plans, saying if they are elected they will make moves to “strengthen tenant’s rights”.
Their licensing system would see landlords pay a “small” fee for a five-year licence to rent out properties.
Opposition councillors questioned the effectiveness of the scheme - pointing to trials elsewhere in the country which had found the scheme to be “costly”, “ineffective” and “open to legal challenge”.
Councillor Chaun Wilson, Labour’s housing spokeswoman for Brighton and Hove, said landlords would have to demonstrate their ability to maintain their property to “pre-agreed standards” to the council before being granted a licence.
The council would have the power to fine landlords who fail to register with the scheme and recover any rents or housing benefits paid while a property was not licensed.