Today’s ONS figures for private rental prices confirm what many of us know already: that private renting, which is insecure, with minimal control for the tenant and often besieged with damp, mould and cramped conditions, is also expensive. UK rental prices have increased by over 7% since January 2015, largely driven by increases in London and the South East.

But this isn’t the whole story of the housing crisis.

Much of our understanding of the housing crisis is framed in a context which is relevant to London and other major metropolitan cities. The debilitating costs of rent for tenants and the excessive power afforded to landlords in a sector where demand is high, supply is low, tenant power is scant and social housing is disappearing fast is often the focus of headlines. But what about places with lower – and comparatively cheap – rents, such as in areas like Yorkshire and the Humber and the North East? Are these areas suffering less at the hands of the UK housing crisis?

Much of our understanding of the housing crisis is framed in a context which is relevant to London and other major metropolitan cities

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the answer is no. If we examine the housing crisis from the perspective of our post-industrial and coastal towns and cities, we can see that, as NEF has previously outlined, our broken land system still creates problems for communities where property is less desirable’.

In my home city of Bradford, the comparatively cheap cost of property has meant that the private rental sector has fallen prey to predatory slum landlords, motivated by profit and with little regard for maintaining decent standards of living, who buy up multiple buy-to-let properties and fail to maintain decent living conditions within them. The financialisation of land and housing, which has been in overdrive in the UK since the 1980s due to a raft of neoliberal policies, has led to a proliferation of landlords who see the properties they manage as business opportunities, rather than homes which people rely upon for shelter and a decent quality of life.

Tenant disempowerment, which in London and other major cities traps people in a competitive and overpriced market, manifests in poorer parts of the country — like Bradford — through exploitative and often illegal practices. Inevitably, this affects the most vulnerable in society: people with less confidence or knowledge about their rights and ability to fight for them. A housing officer in Bradford told me that on multiple occasions, people had approached social housing offices in need of accommodation due to revenge evictions, served ostensibly under the soon-to-be-outlawed Section 21, informing them they were to be evicted with notice periods of less than two weeks as a result of their requests for repairs (something which falls foul even of a piece of legislation as regressive as Section 21). In all of these cases, the housing officer told me, it was the most vulnerable people with the least confidence to assert their rights who suffered.

Tenant disempowerment manifests in poorer parts of the country through exploitative and often illegal practice

For people such as those with insecure migration status, or those reliant upon criminalised forms of labour to make ends meet – something which many in parts of the country with limited employment opportunities depend upon in the face of the vanishing social security net – there is no power available to them to challenge such behaviour. In a workshop I helped to run with people from coastal communities in the UK earlier this year, multiple participants mentioned slum landlords presiding over overcrowded properties where migrant workers were squeezed in, many of whom with insecure statuses. Tenants were too afraid of the potential consequences of involving the authorities to challenge their substandard conditions. The limited state mechanisms failed to support the most vulnerable due to a fear of the ramifications of involving the authorities.

It’s clear that, though the manifestations of the housing crisis may vary across the country, the market’s dominance over a resource which we depend upon to survive is felt nationwide. At NEF, we are working to address the inequitable land system through our campaign to stop the sell-off of publicly owned land, and by advocating for a fairer land system, including calling for an increase in non-private land ownership. We are also working alongside renter groups to take action against landlords who benefit from the ruthless and profit-hungry UK housing system, ensuring the most vulnerable are supported.

Image: Tim Green (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)