Generation Rent Meets Manchester City Housing and Planning Directorate:
Following on from the previous overview of the City Council's PRS task force recommendations, Manchester Generation Rent attended a meeting with Director of Housing Paul Beardmore and Mark Glynn, Strategic Area Manager, of the city council.
There were some interesting discussions to be had at this meeting.
Mr. Beardmore has previously spoken in an online business publication of his belief that Manchester would benefit from a more ‘U.S. Style' housing offering where properties are built to a target renter demographic of students and young professionals who want to “purchase a lifestyle rather than a home for life”.
When asked to elaborate Mr. Beardmore jovially admitted thus far the general response to this touted proposal hadn't been entirely positive, and went on to emphasise that the City Council’s overarching strategy is in keeping up the equilibrium of market rental properties available to counterbalance those absorbed into Rent to Buy Schemes.
Mr. Beardmore echoed Sean McGonigle (MCC assistant chief executive of Growth) when he stated that the council will not support a citywide landlord register as they view this as expensive and difficult to enforce. MCC have, however, expressed their wish to continue to target council resources into certain problems areas via a granulated approach; such as (Director of Housing's own quoted example) criminal landlords laundering ill gotten proceeds through investing in creating high-end property conversions within glaringly low income areas.
Mr Beardmore and Mr Glynn specified this case scenario, and added that a further issue common in this realm was landlord tax evasion. Which beggars the question, how much more cash could be recouped and fed back into the local authorities housing systems, if landlords were registered and their behaviours more accountable?
Economically it was unsurprising that this is the current line taken by Manchester city council which, like so many others is operating on a massive budget deficit. Yet their choice to target the more overt criminal activity in the PRS, while logical in the short term fails to address the root causes such as the lack of regulation within the market at large, which incubates such illegality.
Intelligence based scrutiny on a case by case basis, as opposed to deploying a broader approach of licensing also proves to be a false economy when projected into long view of social economics.
However, the systemic complexity of planning and enforcement within an increasingly diverse rental market was acknowledged by all parties present. The devil is in the detail as they say, and where Generation Rent and MCC truly part ways in PRS opinion is upon the lack of redress in our current rental sector. Very few landlords are prosecuted under the current legal system, largely due to a lack of uptake into existent optional accredited registration schemes, making them 'invisible' to local authorities. However, Council emphases upon a more granulated approach to the overall sector does make sense in terms of the more tailored processes of redress mirroring the market's fragmentation.
The city council concur that more work is needed on ensuring that landlords operating illegally are caught and prosecuted. Ideally the council would like to see the money from payments levied on these offenders being reinvested back into the local authority to utilise in improving the rental sector across the region as opposed to going to back to the Treasury. We hope that more detail on these plans, and how levied fines can be spent, will be made soon, giving confidence to those renters currently enduring terrible conditions that their concerns will be heard.
The Council have also attested a need for more devolution of powers from central government before tackling some of the rental market problems effectively. In light of the talk coming from Westminster in the wake of the Scottish Referendum it would be interesting to note whether this is something the Council envisages actually happening, or if it is a convenient diversionary tactic for them when it comes to their responsibility to renters.
It’s important to mention the very positive aspects from these meetings and there were many to be had; The Council acknowledged that while it has a Landlords Forum (small though it is) it does not have a Tenants Forum and that this is something which the city needs. This sort of engagement with Manchester’s renters would be a step in the right direction, as long as their views are listened to. The Council needs to put more emphasis on this sort of activity and work in conjunction with their voters on this, the majority of whom will all be renters in the next decade.
It was also mentioned that continuing to work with Generation Rent was seen as another way the Council could communicate with renters, via engaging in updates on our budding work in reaching out to tenants across Greater Manchester. In addition to this there was much discussion around plans for future rental property provision, which will include a 244 mixed tenure development to be undertaken in partnership with the Greater Manchester Pensions Fund.
This development will be aimed at mainly families through provision of affordable, longer term Assured Short Hold Tenancies of three years. These longer tenure properties aim at shifting the rented sector into a less transient demography, where communities have the opportunity to become more cohesive and self regulating, as renters stay put for longer. Currently areas with a higher percentage of renters are associated with a culture of behavioural trends such as littering and anti social activity which can be countered by longer term tenants who will be naturally more invested in taking care of their area.
This meeting reignited awareness of the complexity that accompanies the changing rental market and the growing importance of tenant-inclusivity in decisions taken upon their homes.