What are mayoral candidates offering renters in city regions?

May 05, 2021 6:47 PM

On Thursday, eight city regions elect a Metro Mayor. We have published two manifestos:

  • A manifesto for London, which contains 1m private renter households and has had a Mayor for 20 years
  • A manifesto for the rest of England. Between them, Greater Manchester, West Midlands, Greater Liverpool, West of England, Cambridge and Peterborough, West Yorkshire and Tees Valley contain around 750,000 private renter households and where the office of Mayor is still relatively new (completely new in the case of West Yorkshire).

What we're demanding

In London our manifesto focuses on the cost of rent, where the median 1-bed home costs more than 45% of the median salary. We call on the candidates to demand powers from central Government to control rents in the city, while building 60,000 social rented homes, and tackling illegal holiday lets that take homes away from Londoners.

In the rest of the country our focus is on standards of housing. During his first term, we called on Sadiq Khan to name and shame criminal landlords, and to give renters the tools they needed to check their home's compliance with licensing laws - both of these are online, showing mayors elsewhere in England what is possible. This is the thrust of what we're calling on the winning candidates to adopt - though there is more they can do to coordinate councils and lobby national government for tenancy reform.

Mayors in London and elsewhere should also work with Police and councils to protect tenants from illegal evictions.

What candidates are offering

Some candidates have published manifestos spelling out what they will do if elected. Here are the highlights. 

Safer homes

Andy Burnham in Greater Manchester promises a "Good Landlord Charter to drive up standards", while Jessie Joe Jacobs in Tees Valley would set up a Good Rent Certificate for "individual properties that pass a series of quality standards checks" and a portal to list these. Something similar was tried in London by one Boris Johnson but was a failure, with very low take up and very minimal standards required of landlords.

Burnham would also use an Ethical Lettings Agency to "bring more properties in the private sector under social housing standards" - again an initiative that sounds positive but has not been done successfully yet. In West Yorkshire, Tracy Brabin pledges to develop a social letting agency. 

Liam Byrne in the West Midlands commits to work with councils to raise standards, creating a "common set of rules across the West Midlands to tackle poor quality housing, like Birmingham is doing, including for HMOs and supported accommodation". He also would "undertake a crackdown on dodgy landlords working with the Police & Crime Commissioner". Jacobs has similarly committed to developing "a shared, coordinated joint response to the issues in the private rented sector", and wants a Tees-wide landlord licensing scheme. Burnham would champion more landlord licensing in the 10 councils within his region, and involve the fire service to support enforcement of standards. Aidan Van de Weyer in Cambridge and Peterborough also commits to "work with partners to improve conditions for people renting in the private sector".

Warmer homes 

A theme with more support among candidates is energy efficient homes, though the level of detail varies. Sian Berry in London recognises that energy efficiency is a big part of a home's overall quality, with draughty homes much more likely to be damp and mouldy. She promises to "set up an immediate insulation and ventilation taskforce to deal with cold damp homes, and cut the number of these by at least a third by 2024". She would also "set up a team of experts [within City Hall] who can be employed by councils that are struggling to properly staff energy standards inspections in private rented housing".

In the West of England, Dan Norris would establish a "Retrofit Accelerator programme", Stephen Williams would similarly pursue projects "retrofitting older homes with energy efficiency measures". Their rival Samuel Williams would focus on new homes with "a Building a Brighter World Award incentivising innovation in...decarbonisation" (among other things). Matthew Robinson in West Yorkshire would also focus "the latest green technology" on new build homes, Steve Rotheram in Greater Liverpool would create a "Good Homes Standard"... for new homes, but Andy Street in the West Midlands wants to launch "a massive regional programme to improve the energy efficiency of homes". Aidan Van de Weyer points out that support for retrofitting "can make the most difference" with "smaller and cheaper homes".  

Building homes

In Cambridge and Peterborough, James Palmer's big commitment is for £100k Homes - 1-bed homes sold at a discount to first time buyers, and can only be sold on at a discount. He wants to build 20,000; eight have been built in his first term. Shaun Bailey in London has also made this his big pitch, with 100,000 of them promised.

Most other candidates acknowledge the need for affordable homes for rent as well as sale, including Andy Street, who promises "thousands of new homes for social rent". Andy Burnham is more specific, pledging "30,000 zero-carbon homes for social rent" - three times Sadiq Khan's 10,000 target (for a city where more than 60,000 households are in temporary accommodation).  

In the West of England, Dan Norris would focus on building homes appropriate for an ageing population, while Samuel Williams would prioritise Community Led housing projects - though without any more detail. 

Demanding more

Sadly Metro Mayors' powers are very limited so a big part of their jobs will be to secure more powers from Westminster. A number of candidates have pledged to campaign for an end to Section 21 evictions, including Sadiq Khan, Luisa Porritt (London), Sian Berry and Andy Burnham. Liam Byrne promises to campaign for the restoration of housing benefit for under-25s (which sounds like a conflation of two different things) and access to housing support for migrants. 

Khan wants powers over rents in London - as well as landlord licensing and "a proper registration scheme to help manage the growth of short-term lets".

Whoever wins in each of these eight contests, there are ideas in these manifestos that could make a difference to nearly two million households who rent from private landlords. But when the power to really transform lives remains with Westminster, the voices of each Mayor will count as much as their actions.