My family rents a damp, cold flat. Government plans to level up housing won’t help me.

It's good that Michael Gove is thinking about private renters, but without investment his plans are just hot air.

Ever since October, when temperatures dropped and cold moisture hung in the autumn air, I’ve been awoken at night by the sound of my baby coughing. His cough is worst in the mornings, after a night sleeping under two duvets in our cold bedroom, where the thin windows and damp walls leave his eight-month old chest exposed to the winter weather.

I was hopeful then when I read Monday’s surprise announcement from Michael Gove that, as part of the government’s strategy to level up’ parts of the country, they will force private landlords to bring the homes they let up to a decent standard. On the face of it, this looks like a big win for housing campaigners like me who have been arguing for years that we deserve decent standards just like other renters.

The English Housing Survey estimated that 23% of the country’s 19m rented homes did not meet the standard of decency required in other forms of rented housing. The legislation will require landlords to refit 800,000 properties that don’t meet requirements to be​“safe, warm and in a good state of repair”. If you rent from a private landlord, your home is much more likely to be unaffordable and in poor condition than people who rent from a council or housing association. Gove is right to be focusing resources and attention on housing — it’s an immense challenge to the government’s levelling up ambitions. 34% of privately rented homes are​“non-decent” in Yorkshire and the Humber compared with 17% in the south-east.

If you rent from a private landlord, your home is much more likely to be unaffordable and in poor condition”

But will the new measures make things better for the 19% of the UK population who rent privately, many of them living in far worse homes than mine?

The new law will introduce a compulsory landlord register, with rogue landlords being ejected from the list. Would my landlord be kicked off for the indecent conditions of my home?

My landlord is no rogue. He uses a reputable letting agent, signed up to all the accreditation schemes going. When I told him about the damp and mould, I was given vague advice about opening windows and not drying clothes on radiators. You don’t have to be a rogue landlord to sit on your hands whilst your tenants get sick from the poor state of your property.

The government’s tone-deaf insistence that problems in private renting can be solved by rounding up a few cackling, slick-haired villains is easier to understand when we remember that nine members of the current cabinet are landlords themselves.

How are these new rules going to be enforced? It’s the responsibility of councils to enforce the law against private landlords, but they’ve been made impotent by funding cuts. If, like other levelling up announcements, this comes without any new investment, Gove’s ambitions will be hot air.

Instead, we need serious regulation of the sector in the short term. Gove should be looking seriously at the Property MOT’ model developed by Advice4Renters, which makes high standards and competent management a condition of letting a home.

But the truth is, our private renting system is rotten from the foundations. Without a rebalancing of power between renters and landlords, these new measures will fall short. Landlords will always throw their far greater resources and legal protections behind dodging regulations.

If levelling up is about making peoples’ lives better, we need to put the needs of humans and the planet at the forefront of how we design, build and manage housing — and this can’t be done through a dysfunctional system of private renting, where properties are assets first and homes second.

“… the truth is, our private renting system is rotten from the foundations.”

Let’s not pretend that housing let by councils and housing associations is always a utopia of high standards. At NEF, we’re working with residents in Birmingham and Rochdale, both fighting appalling treatment and attempts at displacement by their social landlords.

Both too are fighting to reclaim the energy and spirit of collectivism that, in the post-war years, birthed not only the NHS but a huge amount of quality public housing, built to meet people’s needs. This was ambitious, aspirational housing that allowed people to live better lives. We need to build on this strong legacy, upgrading our public housing stock and investing in new green public housing, with power for renters over how it’s built and run.

Hopefully, as Gove continues his charm offensive of so-called red wall’ voters, he’ll cotton onto the fact that social housing is not only the best way to solve the housing crisis, it’s also incredibly popular.

If this government are serious about levelling up, they need a bold break from recent housing policy, which has handed private developers millions to build unaffordable homes, and safeguarded the incomes of private landlords through tax breaks and mortgage holidays.

The health and wellbeing of my son, and the millions of children and adults living in indecent homes, is too important to leave to private developers and landlords who put profit before all else.

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