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Money is not a dirty word – greed is

In the final blog by students who attended the Wales Housing Research Conference 2020, Naomii Thomas reflects on the role of the private rented sector.

The conference did as it promised and delivered excellent insight into a wide range of housing research. Thus, enabling us as housing practitioners to use the evidence to shape the way that we work to best suit those that receive our services.

It boasted a wide range of attendees including stakeholders from varied backgrounds such as researchers, students, economists, local authority and housing association practitioners, private landlords and key leaders from the housing world.

Overall, I found the whole day to be quite inspiring although I particularly enjoyed the weird and wonderful research presented by Yoric Irving-Clarke (CIH) as part of the ‘Re-thinking Home’ session. Who knew we could liken the concept of home to Yoda and Darth Vader?

However, what I found most interesting is what took place during the question time segments after the plenaries. Namely, a discussion amongst audience members about the role of the private rented sector in the current housing landscape.

The scale of the private rented sector is evidenced in the recent research carried out by Professor Alex Marsh (University of Bristol) and Professor Ken Gibb (University of Glasgow) on ‘The private rented sector in the UK: An overview of the policy and regulatory landscape’. Professor Marsh presented some of his findings during the afternoon plenaries and according to his research, the private rented sector makes up 20% of the housing market. Also, that diversity and tenure lengths within the private rented sector are increasing. Given that local authorities in Wales are now discharging their homeless duties into the private rented sector; it is clear that the private rented sector a very real part of the housing market today.

Challenges faced by private renters have been high on the political agenda in recent years. It is no secret that poor management and poor-quality housing especially in poorer areas are impacting the health and wellbeing of private renters. In response to this, there have been recent regulatory changes in a bid to tackle ‘rogue’ landlords including mandatory landlord registration in Scotland, Wales and some parts of England.

There is no denying that the changes to improve the issues faced within the sector are welcomed by all except, perhaps, a proportion of private landlords. This proportion of landlords appeared to be represented at the conference and we heard some of the difficulties of being private landlords under the current legislation. Admittedly, the language and tone were not what we are used to as professionals however I found their points to be very valid.

It was particularly interesting to hear that taxes on rental properties are being increased and this is making it increasingly challenging for private landlords to make enough income to ensure their business is viable. What was more interesting though was that this comment was not well received by members of the audience. The collective opinion appeared to be that the private rented market was not welcome within the housing sector and that the desire to make money was unjustifiable. The hostility was apparent, and it made me question my own knowledge and experience: was I wrong to disagree?

The answer is, I don’t think so. It was another afternoon plenary that helped me to come to this conclusion; Dr. Bob Smith and his insight into how affordable housing should take more consideration to cost efficiencies and value for money. It is a necessity that private landlords make a profit just as social landlords must in order to pay staff a decent wage, provide suitable places of work and so on. Just as when procuring a housing maintenance contract, we must ensure that the contractor is making enough profit or they cannot pay their operatives, buy vans and so on. It is important to remember that ‘money’ is not a dirty word; ‘greed’ is.

The truth is that if private landlords decide that enough is enough, we are in big trouble. We have to acknowledge that the private rented sector is an essential part of the solution to the housing crisis. Maybe then we can find ways to work with and support our private landlords to help us to deliver homes across the UK. Let’s move towards a more inclusive housing sector and make those strides to ending homelessness in the UK.

Naomii Thomas is a student on the MSc Advanced Practice (Housing) course at Cardiff Metropolitan University and attended the Housing Research Conference as part of the research methods module

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