Kent property tycoon Fergus Wilson, who owns hundreds of houses and flats, has increased the rent of some 400 tenants by £50 within an hour of the Bank of England’s 0.25% interest rate rise. The rent rise is equivalent to a hike of 10% for tenants who were paying rents of £500 a month.
Earlier in 2018 he announced he was evicting four pregnant women from his properties during a clash with Ashford Borough Council over its emergency maintenance policy. Wilson also infamously tried to argue in court that he was justified in implementing a ban on “coloured” renters because they “leave a curry smell behind”.
The list of people he will not rent to also includes victims of domestic violence (because their ex-partners ‘may damage properties’) and those on housing benefit. In 2014 Wilson sent an eviction notice to every one of his tenants requiring housing benefits and has written to letting agents stating that he will no longer consider tenants who require housing benefits.
On banning victims of domestic abuse, he said “it’s terrible what happens to these women, I hate it. But quite honestly it costs us a lot of money.” Regarding those on housing benefit: “it’s for the council to provide accommodation for poor people, not private sector landlords.”
Council housing has, however, been completely decimated in favour of private landlords such as Wilson. The vast majority of new houses today are being built by private developers, not for sale or rent to ordinary workers but as investment opportunities for the rich.
Development for profit leads to shoddy building practices, small room sizes, and inadequate provision of green spaces, community facilities, transport links and other amenities. Instead of building and maintaining social housing, the government is using the housing budget to subsidise private developers and keep their profits high.
The law is also used to favour landlords at the expense of tenants, meaning Wilson is far from alone in his discriminatory practices. An investigation carried out by the housing charity Shelter found that 1 in 10 letting branches had a blanket ban in place rejecting any applicants on housing benefits, and research conducted by Citizens Advice has found that nearly half of tenants who make a formal complaint about their housing are evicted by their landlords as revenge, some 47,000 people each year. These evictions are made possible because of section 21 notices under the 1988 housing act which allow landlords to force out tenants on a no-fault basis.
Home ownership in Britain is at a 30-year-low with private renting doubling since 2004, and half of all people in England aged 25 to 34 pay a private landlord for their accommodation. House prices across Britain are now, on average, 7.6 times the average annual salary – a figure which has more than doubled in the past 20 years. The median price for a home increased by 259 percent over this period, while average earnings only rose by 68 percent. The vast majority of new houses today are being built by private developers, not for sale or rent to ordinary workers but as investment opportunities for the rich. In 2016-17 of the 40,534 homes built in London 33,642 were built for the private market. Rich investors and hedge funds buy up the homes at ever more exorbitant prices, with the intent of renting them for eye-watering sums or keeping them unoccupied as they increase in value.
The pulling down of working-class housing estates in desirable city-centre locations (so that the sites can be redeveloped commercially) is adding fuel to the fire. These estate demolitions, while driving thousands of workers out of previously secure homes and into the waiting arms of private landlords (driving up rents and pushing down standards for most) are making room for yet more luxury developments in which the super-rich can rest their surplus capital.
The council housing sell-off has effectively abolished the right to a home. For this situation to change councils would have to begin requisitioning or building – and maintaining – as much social housing as necessary to house decently every worker who needs a home, at low rents and with assured tenancies. Decent, secure and affordable housing can exist for workers without the need for individual ownership of housing. However, as Labour, Tory, and all the other political parties have shown no inclination to provide for our material needs, it falls to us to organise ourselves, and build a society that will meet our needs.