Damp, cold and mouldy housing is making millions of private renters ill, a survey by the charity Shelter has found. A quarter of all renters have said that these intolerable conditions are affecting their health, adding to the stress and anxiety they have felt about their precarious situation during the pandemic.
Across the country, households have suffered sleepless nights facing insecurity, rent increases, and arrears. What’s more, many are at risk of infection due to exposure to icy temperatures and invading fungus in their homes.
When renters raise complaints, they are often ignored or even threatened with eviction by landlords. Despite government promises to end the practice, hundreds of thousands of no-fault evictions have been – and are being – served throughout the pandemic.
Symptoms of a deeper crisis
The insecurity renters endure has been exacerbated by a chronic lack of housebuilding – in particular of social housing. Britain’s social housing stock has diminished by half-a-million since 2000, mainly due to Thatcher’s ‘right to buy’. Council housing waiting lists are set to double by next year, the Local Government Association has warned.
This won’t just affect the poorest, who will be forced to sofa surf, use emergency temporary accommodation or sleep rough; rents and house prices will continue to rise for all, as demand further outpaces supply.
Free-market fanatics want to tackle the housing crisis by ripping up planning regulations which supposedly hold developers back. But it is precisely the free market and drive for profit that has caused the crisis. Ripping up planning regulations would only remove the barriers for leeching landlords to exploit renters even further.
In fact, thousands of homes won’t be built because billions of pounds are being diverted to replace combustible cladding – the rising cost of which is being passed onto already struggling renters.
The cladding crisis – a problem brought to the fore following the Grenfell tower fire in 2017 – could drag on for two decades, according to the Financial Times.
No solution under capitalism
Whatever regulations are in place, there is no reason to think that good quality, affordable housing on a mass scale will be provided by capitalism. This is since it’s more profitable to build a few luxury flats for millionaires, than affordable homes for millions.
While billionaires compete to colonise space and secure their place in history, they have no interest in solving the elementary problems of people sleeping on the streets. Meanwhile, luxury properties stand empty.
Nor do they care about the problem of renters spending over half of their income on cramped housing that is hazardous to their health.
As long as properties are built as commodities – not for people’s needs, but to be sold on a market – decent housing will never be a right, but just another way for the capitalists to make money.
Developers will only build as many houses as they think they can sell for a profit, which are then bought up by the rich as an investment for the future.
This has led to a chronic housing shortage, forcing people to accept exorbitant rents and poor conditions. Landlords are free to charge rents well above the cost of maintenance, living off the wages of their tenants.
The logical conclusion of the housing market is slum housing or homelessness for millions of people.
But during the pandemic, renters haven’t just accepted worsening conditions – they’re fighting back.
Renters’ unions have seen significant growth in membership. They have used direct action, legal support, and campaigning against the government’s attempts to lift the eviction ban, which helped win a six-month extension.
Now, community-based organisations like Acorn and the London Renters’ Union are calling for the cancellation of rent arrears and a permanent eviction ban. At demonstrations, activists are making the point that we don’t need landlords, they need us.
The housing crisis can only be solved by doing away with parasitic landlordism entirely. This means taking housing out of the market, and planning production and distribution for social use.
We need to nationalise the land, major building companies, and the banks, in order to finance and build the housing that people need. And we need to set rents so that accommodation is affordable to the lowest paid.
There are enough empty homes already to end homelessness, if these were taken into public ownership. The rent that is soaked up by landlords could then go into insulating and refurbishing homes to make them safe and livable.
Renters’ unions need to join with the wider labour movement to demand and organise for a socialist housing solution, including:
- Cancelling rent arrears and banning evictions.
- Nationalising the land, the major building companies, and banks to address the need for affordable housing.
- Building a million council houses a year, and taking over empty properties to end homelessness.
- Reducing rents to genuinely affordable levels, in line with local workers’ incomes.