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Standing up for private renters in Islington

 Alice

I am really please to see the launch of Islington Private Tenants, the association for people in Islington who rent from a private landlord or letting agent. 

Private renting is at an all time high, with record numbers of people in London’s private rental sector. Around 26% of people in Islington rent privately. Islington Private Tenants is formed to give a voice to private tenants, who have sometimes been forgotten by politicians.

Back in Feburary 2012 I wrote the following blog about this for Labourlist:

The UK is in the grips of an urgent housing crisis. New home building has ground to a halt. Council housing is in scarce supply, with remaining stock in danger of being sold off at cut prices. High house prices and the giant deposits that go with them have made home ownership a distant, barely attainable dream to most people in their 20s and early 30s. Instead of being able to save for a mortgage, we end up spending significant proportions of our salary on rent.

Like most of friends my age, I rent my flat from a private landlord. In 2001, just 10.1% of English households rented from private landlords. Thanks to the rise of to buy-to-let landlords mortgages, this has now risen to 16.5% and as high as 23% in London.

Often when Labour talks about housing policy, we talk about social housing. With hundreds of thousands of people in desperate need on housing waiting, it isn’t hard to see why.

However, it is extremely welcome that the London Mayoral election campaign is drawing attention to the urgent need for better regulation of the private rental sector. Slum landlords are on the rise and exploiting tenants across the UK. Councillors from the London Borough of Newham recently discovered tenants living in cramped, Dickensian conditions, renting garages and walk in refrigerators.

For me and my friends, issues arising from private tenancy tend to involve things like problems getting back a full deposit, high annual rent increases or long delays getting broken things fixed. But we all know some housing horror stories.

From a campaigning point of view, it can be very difficult to engage with voters who live in the private rental sector. I live above a shop on a busy high-street. No one from any party has ever canvassed me.

It is comparatively easy to canvass the local housing estate, where there are generally lots of Labour voters happy to open their door to talk to you. Trying to canvass the flats above shops can be a nightmare. Not only do the buzzers often not work, it can be hard to even find the entry phone. There might be one bell for 20 flats. Many front doors don’t have letter boxes. No one ever seems to be in. And don’t get me started on gated communities.

Often private rental tenants have short-term contracts. They move after six months or a year. If you go through all this effort to canvass them in September, there is the risk they might move before an election in May. In my block of flats, we are the only household registered to vote.  Yes, it’s easy to see why we’ve never been canvassed.

We recently got chatting to one of our neighbours. (I know! Talking to your neighbours – not something you always do in London.) It turned out our neighbour was actually a member of the Labour Party. He was a postgraduate student and hadn’t transferred his membership to his new address. He hadn’t got around to registering to vote yet. Now he had met other activists he was happy to deliver some leaflets and come out campaigning. His flat was above the high street in a prime spot for a big “Vote Labour” poster. (The 2010 election saw a highly competitive / ridiculous local “poster war” between Labour and the Liberal Democrats – I would have loved to have put a giant poster up in his window.)

If Labour is to win back power, every vote counts. The harder we work (and the more people we speak to) can be the difference between winning and losing. It might be more challenging to reach young people living in the private rental sector, particularly through traditional campaigning, but with social media and PR campaigns Labour can meaningfully engage with this key demographic. Coupled with the right policies concerning the issues that really matter to us, this is a winning combination.

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