South Bristol Voice Column :: April 2023

Anyone seeking a new home to buy or rent knows that the housing market in Bristol is a mess. Those seeking to buy need a deposit few on average wages can afford without help from relatives, private rented accommodation is insecure and far too often of poor quality, and despite the construction of new council properties social rent homes remain scarce.

Low levels of house building over previous decades have helped fuel a never-ending spiral of house price increases. Although many in south Bristol, who already own a home, have seen their house value increase, many older residents can’t find high quality homes so they can ‘downsize’, which would potentially release family sized properties.

Due to the housing shortage, we also have a rental market shortage. This is most acute in cities like Bristol, but it is replicated in every town and village across the UK. Market forces mean that some unscrupulous buy-to-let owners can charge exorbitant rates. This bleak picture only gets worse if you are reliant on Local Housing Allowance (LHA) to help pay the rent due to a low income.

A survey by the campaign group Generation Rent in December 2022 found that half of respondents who had rented their home for over a year had been asked for a rent increase by their landlord. Nearly half of all rent increases were of over £50 a month. Along with the Resolution Foundation think tank they have called for an increase in LHA rates, which have been frozen in cash terms for the past three years.

And herein lies another problem with our faltering housing market: the cost to taxpayers.

The longer national Government fails to deliver more homes the longer the bill for LHA will increase. It is wrong for the Conservative Government to have frozen this support payment for nearly three years. The short-term solution is uprating LHA, but that won’t solve the underlying problem.

This cannot be fixed with the swish of a magic wand. We must look at how we legislate against large house building companies buying land and refusing to develop until the value rockets. We must look at planning law on inner-city house building and of course, we must look at how we protect renters from poor landlords.

There are some grounds for optimism locally, more new social rent housing is under construction in on East Street, Winterstoke Road, North Street and elsewhere. Dozens of families in south Bristol will be moving in to new socially rented homes in the coming weeks.

But failure by national Government to prioritise housebuilding of all tenures means waiting lists for such homes remain obscenely high, and with over 1,000 households in temporary accommodation, families suffer and taxpayers continue to foot the bill.