What we are doing for Generation Rent: Christopher Hawtree, Green, Hove and Portslade

I recently wrote to the representatives of the main political parties in Brighton and Hove regarding Generation Rent, asking what they and their political parties would be offering renters after 2015 on issues including high rents, insecure tenancies, and poor practice by some landlords and, in particular, letting agencies. I am posting all responses received, in the order I have received them. Today, the response from Christopher Hawtree, Green Party candidate, Hove and Portslade 

“Do You Sleep In The Nude?” The American journalist Rex Reed’s famous Sixties question could have now become redundant. So I remarked, one sunny spring afternoon, to a Hove resident.

That is, pyjamas would now cost over £112 if they had matched the rise in England’s property prices since 1971. As we talked, she was busy in cleaning her rented studio, whose owners were about to sell to raise funds for a baby. Her cleaning was extraordinarily diligent – to prevent the letting agents from keeping much of the £850 for “cleaning”. (They even try to keep some back if there are weeds in the garden. which is a new take on being stung.) What’s more, she had somewhere to go, by dint of paying a year’s rent in advance (borrowed from a relative).

It is becoming as hard and expensive to rent as to get a mortgage in Hove and Brighton. We have the sixth-largest private rented sector in the UK and the ninth largest number of Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs), yet competition for living space is fierce. The population here has grown by more than 20,000 in the 21st century, and the 30,000 students, two universities and forty language schools compete for flats and bed-sits with local residents. Students already occupy 5,000 family homes.

For so long the banking and pensions industries have fostered this craving for an increase in property prices. Signs are that even they now realise that this is at a cost of social stability, whose environmental standing is further weakened by 635,000 empty homes in England. In line with Green party national policy, the Hove and Brighton group recently won a Notice Of Motion, which set out a scheme of secure five-year tenancies (especially vital for children’s upbringing), with rent increases during the tenancy linked to inflation (and, crucially, a further limit on that if inflation were to leap up).

This would not be to penalise landlords, as the Tories suggest, but to provide them in turn with steady income rather than those empty homes (voids), which can be financially perilous in their turn.

It should be stressed that there are good landlords with the sense to realise that it is their own interest to maintain a property – and the Green position is that tenants treat a place with more respect if allowed to decorate it to their taste so long as they return it to landlords’ magnolia when leaving.

The Green Party also urges a doubling of the tax-free rent-a-room scheme to £9000 a year, from which all would gain

Greens have always opposed the right to buy council housing. In the past two years 101 council homes (43 houses and 58 flats) have been sold in Hove and Brighton , 76 of them last year.More than 20 per cent of those sold since 1980 are now let out privately. Only 30 per cent of the money raised from the sales can be used to build new homes.

Hove and Brighton’s Green-led council has urged the government to remove the cap on borrowing to build more council homes. It has a worked-up schemes for about 100 new homes. Planning permission has been given for the first of these, 45 extra-care flats, and it will go on-site later this year. Other schemes will follow.

The Labour Party has recently introduced– despite Ed Balls’s objections – proposals for rent controls which echo the Greens’ long-standing stance and which we welcome as a start, while mindful of landlords’ attempts to increase rent as an area improves (a subject which Labour skirts).Housing is a complex question, central to life itself. And it should always be remembered that, in the end, we each have a custom-made home, duly sub-let to the worms. Precious time should not have to be spent in fretting over a home but given to life itself. In this political quest, my aim is to help residents make the best use of brief, accelerating time – and leave behind good and pleasing housing that will endure for those as-yet unborn.

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