Ben Reeve Lewis contemplates the unthinkable …
Compiling Newsround each week provides the unique opportunity to see on a daily basis, the subtle changes in rhetoric, arguments, fads and faffs of ideas circulating in PRS land.
Some are simply classic examples of journalistic band wagon jumping while others are mapping the changing narrative of the PRS.
It’s a two way street. The press both reports on what is going on out there and at the same time feeds back into the discussion, fuelling the debate so it cant be dismissed, even when those articles are penned by organisations or blogs who landlords wouldn’t naturally agree with, such as Shelter, Jules Birch or Red Brick.
I’m prompted to write this piece by two things:
- Recent comments to some other posts I have written,
- The comments of one landlord on a training course I delivered to landlords in London a few weeks back.
Please dear reader don’t take what I am about to talk about as merely a puerile stirring of the hornet’s nest just for the sake of it; it’s a genuine open question.
What would happen if the PRS shrunk by 50% overnight?
What if landlords did what they always say they will and vote with their feet in response to the growing call for rent control?
When I mentioned the prospect of rent control on my training course, merely as a discussion piece one of the landlords became very animated and said that property prices would plummet overnight as landlords placed their portfolios up for sale. Supply for once trumping demand.
And this is a common response whenever the topic is raised. Landlords deserting the market in droves for sunnier financial climes.
My admittedly possibly reckless rejoinder being “Well that Peckham flat cant be moved to Dundee so it will still be available for someone in the community, albeit in a different form”.
The question being “In what form?”
Properties being scooped up as buy to let residences is in part driving generation rent. Maybe if those properties were more affordable many of those currently renting would be able to afford to buy, so is a mass exodus of PRS landlords such a bad thing to society as a whole?
People selling homes would be hit, people seeking to buy homes would be at an advantage. The pendulum swings.
For sure the housing landscape would change dramatically but in what ways?
In qualifying this inflammatory discussion (I am wearing my stab vest as I write) bear in mind that if this were to happen the system would have to readjust, so whereas the initial shock would leave a gaping PRS shaped hole, policies, practices and hastily redrafted legislation would quickly step in to not only rebalance the system but also to capitalise on the sudden glut of available properties.
Society’s attitudes to private renting and therefore it’s housing policies would change significantly to deal with the sudden revolution, which is exactly what it would be, a revolution in how we go about our housing lives.
A sudden mass get out by PRS landlords would create havoc in housing world for sure but I doubt that all the properties would remain idle for long.
Public reaction to a mass exit by landlords
Can you imagine the newspaper headlines if masses of tenants were evicted and property portfolios sold? The Daily Mirror would yell “End this scandal of empty homes”, while the Guardian runs “Homeless families increase as landlords turn away from renting”.
The Daily Mail would champion “Never been cheaper to buy a house”, while the Sun would run a competition to win three of them plus a 52” Flatscreen TV with home cinema system……….and a holiday in Florida.
Government would have to act. Would housing associations use their financial clout to buy en masse and rent out?
In truth many of the dissenting opinions about landlords getting out of the game are based on the system as it is at the moment, but systems change in response to social problems.
Things change …
It happened in 1989 when the Housing Act 88 was ushered in and trashed Rent Act protection, it can happen again when public opinion reaches critical mass.
Monitoring the press up to 12 months ago all mention of housing benefit straining the national debt placed the blame at the feet of the unemployed. Then it became apparent that despite cuts the housing benefit bill was rising as more working people claimed who’s wages weren’t keeping up with the cost of living and so the narrative started to change.
In the past 6 months I’ve been reading more and more pieces of analysis, from tabloids to broadsheets pointing the finger at PRS landlords for being the ultimate beneficiaries of housing benefit.
Last night I watched a documentary on BBC1 about the right to buy where the presenter raised this very point.
When a viewpoint starts getting repeated in the media any idea, in this case rent control, ceases to be a heretical one and with the recent announcement by right wing think tank Civitas that Labour’s plans for renting aren’t radical enough and calling for rent control you have to wonder if, coupled with the hotting up the impending election campaigns, critical mass may not be a long way off.
What do YOU think?