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Tenants are fighting back against the crisis in private renting

Tenants Union UK and Greater Manchester Housing Action are organising Renters’ Forums across the city to push for a renter-led policy response to the crisis of private renting. We are bringing together a diverse group of renters, policy makers and 3rd sector organisations to  re-balance the power between landlords and renters, and give tenants a voice.

It is widely acknowledged that those who privately rent or those who are trying to access the market face a multitude of issues. Insecure contracts, poor quality housing, extortionate fees and all of the mental and physical health problems that go along with it. What doesn’t get talked about enough is the lack of power that tenants have to tackle these issues.

If you complain to your landlord, letting agent or your MP, the usual reply is “if you don’t like it you can always move”. But this illusion of choice is becoming more and more recognised as exactly that, an illusion.

The demographic of private renters is  diversifying rapidly. Families, single parents, students, disabled people and those experiencing homelessness are increasingly left with no other option than to rent privately. In recent months there has been national recognition that there are serious problems with the sector , yet those directly affected are often never consulted or able to participate in influencing policy change.

Why we need to amplify the voice of renters

Across Greater Manchester there is an estimated 400,000 people renting privately, despite years of exclusion from the conversation on housing, renters across the city are beginning to bang on the castle gates.  Organisers within Greater Manchester Housing Action (GMHA) and Tenants Union UK (TUUK) are striving for progressive, and importantly renter-led, solutions to the crisis of private renting

GMHA, TUUK, and our allies want localised solutions now, and whilst putting pressure on policy makers to bring private renting into the national consciousness, we also call for innovative actions in Greater Manchester that do not need to wait for a change of government or legislation. It is essential that solutions are driven by renters themselves, empowering them to use their own varied experience to drive change, build transparent collaborative relationships with Local Authorities in GM and create greater community ties in areas with increasing transient communities.

Earlier this year in March, GMHA and TUUK took key steps to begin a coordinated effort to create solutions, hosting Manchester’s first ever  Renters Forum. The event took a uniquely holistic approach, providing an opportunity for renters to connect with advice services, to speak directly to policy makers and to engage with local campaigning organisations. This format enabled renters to discuss the issues and local solutions associated with; affordability, barriers, poor conditions and lack of representation.

Around a hundred renters, front-line workers, housing campaigners, councillors and the Greater Manchester Mayor – Andy Burnham attended to discuss the key issues and propose solutions.

All of the discussions were compiled into the Renters Forum Report and a set of demands were drawn from this to present to the Greater Manchester Combined Authority and Manchester City Council. The Forum effectively amplified the voices of renters, using civic engagement strategies to improve the representation and rights of renters.

Private renting – next steps

Last week GMHA and TUUK organisers met with the GMCA Housing Team, Manchester City Council’s Enforcement Team and the newly appointed Housing and Regeneration Executive Susan Richards, to discuss the continuation of renter led forums and actions that are deliverable immediately. These deliverables included; public information campaigns around renters rights,educating landlords and letting agents around ‘DSS’ discrimination, greater enforcement on bad conditions, a GM wide accessible deposit/bond scheme and financial support for forums. Both the GMCA and MCC were very receptive to the proposals and were keen to  work with renters, grass-roots organisers and front line services to meet their demands. They have promised a response that can be discussed at a public event in late autumn.

With the support of GMCA and MCC  the organisers of the Forum will be able to use its successful model in high density rental areas of Manchester and  replicate the event across GM boroughs. These forums can continue to empower and educate renters, reach out to those more at risk experiencing issues and encourage renters to drive policy change and participate in campaigns that can radically change the private rented sector.

 

Siobhan Donnachie

First published on Greater Manchester Housing Action website on 24 August 2018

 

 

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