An opinion piece from Councillor Linda Smith, cabinet member for housing:
Last month the government published the Renters Reform Bill that will scrap ‘no fault’ evictions for private tenants. This is a welcome move, though long overdue.
Ending no fault evictions will be significant in Oxford, where a third of homes are privately rented. Everybody deserves the security of knowing they can’t be evicted for no reason. Insecure private renting has a profound impact on people’s ability to plan their lives and live free from worry.
One thing the bill won’t fix is the affordability of private renting. This is a serious issue in a city where rents are over 50% higher than for England as a whole. Although the bill aims to limit “unjustified” rent increases the problem we have is that rent is too expensive here already.
Unaffordable housing puts people at greater risk of homelessness. It pushes them into hardship, overcrowded and unfit conditions or out of Oxford altogether. The 2021 census found a 23% reduction in under-fives compared to 2011 – a clear sign that young families find it increasingly difficult to live here.
Even before the cost of living crisis, the cost of housing meant that nearly a third of Oxford’s children lived below the poverty line. Bad housing has a devastating impact on children’s health and wellbeing and casts a long shadow over their future life chances.
What can we do about this? While our HMO and selective licensing schemes are driving up standards for private tenants, we have no power to control their rents. What we are doing is providing more affordable homes – a key priority in our new five-year housing, homelessness and rough sleeping strategy.
Our housing company OX Place is delivering the affordable homes we so badly need. By the end of this decade, OX Place aims to build over 2,000 homes. These will include a new generation of more than 1,100 council homes, let at social rent. Another 300 homes will be in other affordable tenures like shared ownership.
Social rent is genuinely affordable. In Oxford it’s typically around 40% of the rent a private landlord would charge for the same home.
Shared ownership helps people onto the housing ladder, making homeownership a reality for people who would otherwise be priced out of Oxford. Key workers. First-time buyers. People aged under 40.
Solving Oxford’s housing crisis will require more bold action from central government, but every new affordable home we build locally solves an individual crisis and makes a life-changing difference. That’s why Oxford City Council will continue working to bring forward new sites for development to deliver the homes Oxford people need.
Photos: Feltham Construction