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The Vocal Local: We need to talk about our rental health crisis

When Rob Mason’s landlord tried to increase his rent he and his son were made homeless. He writes about the precarious housing situations for his generation and how he’s turned his experience into a children’s book.

There is a major problem that continues to disproportionately effect younger generations in the UK. Over the last two years the problem has been magnified and there doesn’t seem to be any easy solution. The problem is of course, the housing market.

Priced out and backed into a corner, for millennials and the generations below, obtaining a mortgage becomes increasingly difficult year on year. This leaves us in the hands of landlords. With interest rates in some cases doubling mortgages, rents have also had to rise as landlords pass the additional costs onto their tenants. The implication being that as a renter, you are often handing over close to half of your salary to your landlord.

This is even more prevalent in places like Blackpool, where landlords come from out of town to take advantage of the cheap house prices, hike up rents and offset that against their ridiculous mortgages in the big smoke. Whilst working as a taxi driver, I came across such cases. Sometimes they don’t even come to look at the houses. It’s an easy flip – buy the house, pass it to a letting agent, reap the benefits.

He was clearly upset to find out I knew my rights and subsequently railroaded me out of the house making me currently homeless.

Some landlords, or landleeches as they might be better known, have taken full advantage of the cost-of-living and housing crisis and increased the rents on properties that they own outright. Whilst this might seem like a fair move, given prices are increasing for everyone there really needs to be a cap on the amount that rents can be increased by, as there is in Scotland. In England, there is only guidance and a once in every 12 months clause. After my old landleech upped the rent by £25 per month in 2022, he was clearly upset to find out I knew my rights when just five months later he tried to increase it by another £100 per month. Subsequently, he then railroaded me out of the house making me currently homeless.

This brings me round to another major issue we face. Social housing. For anyone currently in on the housing list, my heart goes out to you as it is a shambles. It seems to me the current approach to housing is as effective as the job centre’s approach to benefits and only pushes people further into poverty. There was a time when around 150,000 social houses were built each year, today it is around 6,000 – a miserly 5 per cent of what is required. Since 1980, thanks to Thatcher’s neoliberal agenda, around 1.5 million council homes have been sold and whilst that might have done wonders for those previously unable to get on the housing market, we have failed miserably to account for these losses. With councils up and down the country going bust, it’s hardly surprising. They can’t afford to balance their own books so it’s highly unlikely they can afford to build houses for those who need them.

Dealing with Blackpool Council’s Housing Options service has been an huge source of stress for me. It feels like 14 years of Tory austerity, rhetoric and oppression has seeped into every nook and cranny of our society. Rather than having an empathetic approach to people struggling in these most difficult times, the gatekeepers of social housing take a hardline, cold and vicious stance. That’s at least very much how it has felt in my case. With private rentals unaffordable, I don’t really see any other option for me and my son other than social housing. At 41 years old, it would be nice to finally realise that security. Having spent over £70k in rent over the last 12 years, as well as the efforts I’ve put in to maintaining the two properties I lived in during that time, it all feels a little unfair. But there are many people in much worse situations than I am, and for whom I have the greatest sympathy.

The current situation is extremely precarious and will affect many who work hard and pay their bills.

I’m currently in temporary accommodation, so I’ve got a roof over my head. It’s far from ideal, but we aren’t out on the streets. I’ve also published a children’s book about a greedy, odious toad who increases the rents on Lily Pad Lake, for his own personal gain. The book was released on the day I was evicted from my home and 50 per cent of the proceeds go to Generation Rent, a tenant’s rights charity that do some awesome work pushing for better regulations to protect tenants.

Of course not all landlords are bad and not all tenants are respectful. The current situation, however, is extremely precarious and will affect many who work hard and pay their bills. Buy-to-let mortgages are commonplace in modern society. These types of rentals are damaging for the market as well as standing as quite an awful way of creating capital. Rent funnels money upwards – it means the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. If you do the maths, only the 1 per cent are safe so we’d all do good to have a think about that.

If you’d like to buy my book, it’s available here.

Reclaim Blackpool - Mapping Sexual Harrasment
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