09 July, 2014

Hackney Labour - on the side of struggling renters

This article first appeared on the London Labour Party website on 9th July 2014.

The private rental sector in Hackney has been in the news recently, with the Mirror rightly highlighting the damaging impact rent rises are having on private tenants on a Hoxton estate. But these tenants are not alone and without better regulation, Hackney’s and London’s social diversity and economy will be at risk.

Renting privately is something I know well, as for the last 11 years I’ve been in Hackney I’ve lived in rented flats. I’ve paid the endless fees, dealt with sharp letting agents and fought to limit the annual attempts to increase my rent by 10% or more. Now I’ve been lucky, I’ve broadly had good landlords, had the time and skills to argue my corner and not had to fight to get repairs done. But others I know have not been so lucky facing intimidation, high rents, poor quality housing, exploitation and evictions.

In Hackney, private rents last year according to the GLA went up by 10%, with three and four bedroom properties seeing the highest rises of 15% and 17% respectively. This unregulated rise makes more of the borough unaffordable, increases the housing benefit bill and because of Tories’ Orwellian ‘Affordable Rent’ programme now has an impact on rents in some new social housing. As a Labour Party in Hackney, I am proud that we have worked with Digs a Hackney private renters’ campaign group to improve the information we provide on private renting and the service we offer tenants who need to complain about rogue landlords.

We found that housing was the number one issue in the local elections and in our 2014 manifesto we set how we would respond to some of these challenges: by setting up a Council backed social lettings agency; exploring how we can introduce a borough wide landlord licensing scheme; and by doing all we can to drive rogue landlords and letting agents out of the borough. But to really have an impact on high rents, the uncertainty created by short tenancies and end rip-off fees we need to campaign for a Labour Government and a Labour Mayor of London.

Recently Ed Miliband and Emma Reynolds showed that Labour is listening. For the first time, we now have a Leader and Shadow Housing Minister focusing on the problems faced by private tenants. Their promise to introduce longer tenancies, end letting agent rip off fees and stabilise rent rises is something worth fighting for and we need to campaign with Londoners to ensure we win.

We know where the Tories stand and that is with the landlords and speculators, alongside the Lib Dems they have frustrated attempts to regulate the private rental sector. Recently we saw London MPs taking the fight to the Government in Parliament, but as a London Labour Party we need to get out there and speak up for generation rent, a generation that before now has struggled to find a political voice. Labour are the only party offering hope to private tenants when we say we will tackle high rents, high fees, introduce real regulation and increase the supply of all types housing, but we can only clean up this failing market if we fight to win next May.

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