Editor’s comment: We won’t fix housing crisis by tinkering

Hackney Council has launched a crackdown on rogue landlords. Picture: DOMINIC LIPINSKI/PA IMAGES

Hackney Council has launched a crackdown on rogue landlords. Picture: DOMINIC LIPINSKI/PA IMAGES - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Over the last few weeks, the Gazette has painted a pretty depressing picture of housing in the borough.

Just 3pc of private rented accommodation is affordable to those relying solely on housing benefit. Landlords are playing fast and loose with repairs. The price of land is rocketing. Housing associations are unaccountable. Communities are being dismantled.

Hackney’s laudable Better Renting campaign ought to help improve conditions for private renters, but the town hall doesn’t have the power it needs to tackle the biggest problem in the sector: the actual cost of renting a home.

Upping housing benefit to keep pace with soaring bills would help more benefit claimants in the short term, but in the process would funnel a large amount of public cash straight into the pockets of private business. Might it even push rents up?

There isn’t enough money or land to build the council housing Hackney needs. All the while, the waiting list is growing, families are losing homes to unafforable rent hikes, and developers are making a killing on luxury flats that sit empty. The private sector cannot be relied upon to deliver good quality, affordable homes.

I’ve read a number of arguments against rent controls. Most centre on the fear landlords would stop renting out properties altogether, as though thousands of pounds of free money isn’t worth having simply because it used to be a few thousand more. And the worst-case scenarios I’ve seen suggested – a race to the bottom for housing conditions, people being forced out unfairly, a lack of affordable homes – sound a lot like what’s happening in the private sector already.

Hackney’s efforts to dip its toe into the pool of regulation are to be applauded, but we need much more – and that has to come from higher up than a single town hall.