A few simple changes of outdated planning rules could boost the provision of professionally managed private rented sector (PRS) housing in London and other British cities. Planners need to simply be more open minded in determining what is “affordable housing”, and use existing legal frameworks to ensure PRS homes are delivered and ring fenced for the medium term.
That’s the plea from Harry Downes, director of Fizzy Living. Writing in a recent edition of Property Week, Downes says PRS landlords and their tenants have much to offer localities, and local councils should be actively encouraging them.
Fizzy is the private rented sector business owned by Thames Valley Housing Group, a major housing association with a portfolio of 15,000 properties across London and the south east. Fizzy Living is already offering private rented sector flats for rent at three developments in east London, and one in Epsom, Surrey, and is promising a new deal for renters including prompt attention to any issues, free wifi, and flexible lease terms.
The private rented sector is really the only practical accommodation option for a rapidly growing group of people. These are young professionals who have a good job, ambitions and a social network, but lack the massive deposit currently required to get a property with a mortgage. Downes labels them “rentysomethings”.
There is an easy way for councils to solve the problem “to achieve their commitment to provide affordable housing – as in, housing that is affordable – in their boroughs,” says Downes. “They can do this by using the section 106 framework to allow buildings of more than 50 flats to be developed as 10 year PRS opportunities.”
Downes says the professional PRS landlord presents four key advantages that benefit both the tenant, and the local community. By building substantial size projects with an average of around 100 flats, professional landlords deliver scale, and with that comes a positive impact on communities. Unlike a private landlord, who can sell out at any time, there is long term commitment, which means tenants are more likely to stay long term, too. Great, proactive management means buildings that stay working well. And finally, there is community, something professional landlords today know is part of making their tenants feel wanted – whether that’s a centrally managed fitness facility, or an online forum that helps individuals find flatmates.
Downes says there are lots of people now wanting to rent; around 2.2 million 20 to 24 year olds were recorded in the 2011 census in the UK. They are, he insists, “valuable assets” as they “spend their time and money in the local bars, shops and amenities, pay taxes and contribute to their community”. Fizzy, and companies like his, would very much wish to accommodate these renters, and are looking for the opportunities to do so. They just need the planners to be a little more helpful, when allocating sites for development.