A RECENT article in The Argus revealed Brighton and Hove is now the least affordable city in England for renters, with tenants forced to spend more than half their hard-earned wages on rent, writes Green councillor Steve Davis.

The nationwide study of more than 50,000 tenants found people renting in Brighton and Hove spent an average of 56.9 per cent of their income on rent, against a national average of less than 40 per cent.

That research, and the fact Brighton and Hove sits top of the ranking, won’t have come as a surprise to the many people who live locally who face extortionately high prices. Spending more than half your income on rent is bad enough, but with the extra financial pressures resulting from the cost-of-living crisis, it must make just getting by without clocking up debt a monthly challenge for many.

Supply and demand obviously plays its part. We live in an amazing city which people will always want to move to – and who can blame them? – but we are also penned in by the sea and the South Downs. A fantastic location, but one which clearly presents challenges for housing in a way many comparable cities just don’t experience.

But that does not mean people should have no options but to pay sky-high prices for rent or move. There are things the government and council could do.

And they need to act soon because the problem is only going to get worse. A recent study by The Resolution Foundation not only found the UK’s housing stock was often in poor condition, badly insulated and the worst value for money of any advanced economy, it also predicted rises in rent increases would continue to outpace wage growth – with rent increasing by an average of 13 per cent nationally over the next three years compared with a 7.5 per cent in average earnings forecast for the same period.

Of course, it is also true house prices are ridiculously high here in Brighton and Hove – making monthly mortgage payments a significant drain on many people’s finances. You certainly won’t hear me cheering skyrocketing house prices which leave people needing the best part of £1 million to buy a terraced house in central Hove.

But the data shows the situation is far worse for renters. Indeed, the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows private renters have poverty rates of 34 per cent, compared with 12 per cent for owner-occupiers. Renters are also at the whims of landlords unexpectedly hiking prices or, in many cases, falling foul of no-fault evictions. For so many, rental accommodation no longer offers secure housing, but is the only option.

It is no secret the Green Party supports rent controls – powers which are granted to local council to cap rents and take action to stop them getting higher. Just last year we asked Labour to commit to Brighton and Hove City Council to request such powers and, more importantly, to begin using them as soon as possible. Labour, despite also apparently being in favour of rent controls, watered down our proposals to instead focus on a landlord licensing scheme, despite the fact one had already been activated by the previous Green administration. Urgent action on spiralling rental costs it was not.

For a party which has spent a lot of time understandably highlighting the devastating impact Liz Truss’s disastrous budget has had on interest rates and mortgage payments, Labour does seem strangely reluctant to commit to the necessary steps to ease the financial strain on renters.

Locally Labour’s pre-election manifesto last year promised a Labour-run council would “demand devolved powers from government to introduce rent caps”. We’ve seen no such demands made yet. Nor will we. Sir Keir Starmer and his government-in-waiting U-turned on their support for rent controls long ago. Nine short months were all that separated Labour’s shadow cabinet saying rent controls were needed and that doing nothing to tackle rent increases was simply not an option to them instead arguing – with no real evidence - that rent controls would solve nothing and instead risk increasing homelessness.

Maybe it takes a little longer for the U-turns to filter down to local level these days. Or maybe Labour’s leadership locally is hoping by re-announcing a scheme already launched by the Greens and never again mentioning rent controls will be enough to make local people forget it was ever a policy Labour support, let alone one they promised.

The Green Party believes renters deserve protection. Protection from no-fault evictions. Protection from unaffordable rent hikes. Protection from having to abandon the city they call home because they can no longer afford to live there. And protection from the often-devastating impact unjustifiably high rents have on their finances.

Cllr Steve Davis is the leader of the Greens on Brighton and Hove City Council