One small step (backwards)

Originally posted on my blog for Inside Housing on January 25.

More of us now rent from a private landlord than at any time since the first man walked on the moon.

Figures in the 2016/17 English Housing Survey published on Thursday show yet another rise in the proportion of households renting from a private landlord and decline in home ownership.

More than 20% of us are now private renters, the highest figure in any year since 1969, the year of Woodstock and one small step for man.

Owner-occupation declined slightly from 62.9% to 62.6% but that overall figure conceals two very different trends.

The proportion of households who own outright rose again to 34.1% while the proportion buying with a mortgage fell to just 28.4%.

To put that second figure in perspective, throughout the 1990s more than 40% of us were buying with a mortgage.

Social renting remained stable at just over 17% of households, but with the local authority share of that falling again.

Tenure change has been especially marked in London. As recently as 2012/13 buying with a mortgage was the largest of the four tenures but four years on it’s the smallest, even falling behind social renting.

In the rest of the country, mortgaged ownership remained stable over the year, perhaps thanks in part to Help to Buy, but it has still seen a big decline over the last decade.

Looking at the figures by age, tenure was relatively stable among the 25-34s, with 37% in home ownership and 46% in private renting.

But owner-occupation among the 35-44s fell to just 52%. To put that in perspective, 66% of households in that age group owned their home ten years ago.

Sadly none of these trends are especially new. It seems certain that outright ownership will continue to rise as older people pay off their mortgages.

But private landlords are not going to go away any time soon. The billions pumped into Help to Buy, stamp duty abolition and all the other initiatives may help to arrest the decline in mortgaged ownership but it’s hard to see it recovering very far.

Finally, the survey also reveals a big issue for those who do succeed in escaping private rentals to become a first-time buyer.

It goes without saying that house prices are on average much higher than ten years ago but many of them will also be paying off the interest on their loan for much longer too.

More than half of first-time buyers had a mortgage of 30 years or more in 2016/17.

On the same day government statistics on rough sleeping showed yet another increase in the number of people without any sort of home.

The total of 4,751 for England is more than double what it was in 2010 (when the counting method was changed) and is 18% up on last year.

The figures reveal what was clear at housing questions on Monday: this is a problem across the whole country now, not just London.

The top 10 highest counts featured Westminster, Camden and Newham but also Brighton, Manchester, Luton, Bristol, Bedford, Southend and Cornwall.

However, as Crisis points out, the official figures are a snapshot of the situation on any given night and the true number is much higher.

These are truly appalling figures and, for all the good news in the Homelessness Reduction Act, it will be an uphill struggle to turn them around.

Less visible homelessness continues to rise as well. The latest figures show 79,000 families and 120,000 children in temporary accommodation at the end of September.

Of those, 1,110 families with children had been in B&B accommodation for more than the six-week legal limit.

However, as an investigation by Jess McCabe in this week’s Inside Housing shows, this figure too is an under-estimate.

That’s because of an exemption in the law that means that councils can leave families with children sharing bathrooms and kitchens with strangers for longer than six weeks provided they own the accommodation themselves.

When you consider that this would count as ‘social housing’ in the English Housing Survey, and that ‘temporary’ accommodation can last for years, it puts today’s figures into perspective yet again.

Back with 1969, that Apollo 11 mission came only a couple of years after Cathy Come Home, the foundation of Shelter and Crisis and the collapse of Ronan Point.

Amid all that optimism and energy, nobody imagined that the space programme would turn into a dead end or that almost 50 years later we would still have huge problems with homelessness and bad housing.

As the saying goes, if we can put a man on the moon…

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