Manchester’s young people find it hard to feel at home

Young people want housing options that offer genuine choice between and within all tenures; they don’t want to be shoehorned into somebody else’s vested housing agenda

By Mark Cantrell 

“What is clear when assessing the rental market, is that there is both a need and demand for more social housing.” – Making Home

YOUNG people want a home they can genuinely afford that offers security of tenure, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they crave home ownership – many would welcome a social home, were the tenure available to them.

That’s not the message the backers of the RSA’s Making Home report might prefer to see pushed to the fore, given the publication’s concern with reversing the declining trend in ownership among the younger generation. Yet for all that, the report adds to the weight of evidence demonstrating a crushing need for more social housing.

The report, launched in October last year, was commissioned by housing association One Manchester, and is based on workshops and focus groups with young people, together with a national Opinium survey for comparison.

The focus, as might be expected, is the city of Manchester, but the experiences and the circumstances explored in its pages are likely to resonate in many parts of the UK.

“One Manchester commissioned this research with the RSA to shed light on the current housing market and how it affects young people, and to give those affected the chance to have an input into potential solutions to help them overcome some of the barriers to home ownership,” said Dave Power, the housing association’s then chief executive (he was succeeded in January by Nicole Kershaw).

“The important findings of this research not only confirm our assumptions about the pressures facing young people looking to get on the housing ladder in these uncertain economic and political times, but they also give real recommendations to support young people, and people of all ages, who are struggling to own their own home.”

In a way, the barriers to home ownership Manchester’s Millennials face are inextricably entwined with the chronic shortage of social housing, and the burgeoning private rented sector. But changes in the nature of employment also play a part.

The emergence of zero hours contracts, and the rise of the so-called ‘gig economy’ has seen precarious and insecure patterns of ‘on-off’ work become mainstream; a 21st century spin on conditions straight out of Victorian times. Inevitably, these impact on people’s ability to save, to secure a mortgage, or clear rental checks.

The national Opinium survey, conducted as part of the report’s research, found that 48% of renters in Greater Manchester and 33% across England had to cut back on essentials such as food, drink and other activities, to cover their housing costs, for instance.

The survey found that just 2% of young people polled in England owned their home through shared ownership. Across England, 25% of young people had access to the ‘Bank of Mum and Dad’, compared to 22% in Greater Manchester. An inheritance helped 13% in England to buy their home, compared to just 5% in Greater Manchester. Similarly, in England, 13% had help from another person, but only 8% could turn to such support in the conurbation.

Clearly, buying a home is getting harder; so too is renting. House prices in Greater Manchester have quadrupled in the last 20 years, the report noted. Furthermore, the official definition of an Affordable Rent – set at up to 80% of local market rents – is anything but affordable for young people.

As for social housing, Greater Manchester may have a larger sector than the national average, but since 1980, it has lost 92,000 homes to right to buy. What’s left is tightly rationed.

“Young people are being failed by our current housing system – and this is particularly true in Manchester,” said report author, Hannah Webster, senior researcher at the RSA. “On the one hand, the cost of deposits and the increasing difficulties faced obtaining mortgages – especially given the growth in the ‘gig economy’ with its volatile incomes – are preventing young people from owning their own homes. On the other, private renting is insecure with young people having little chance of stability or putting down roots, and social rent is all but unachievable. Other options are needed for today’s young people.”

Some might suggest one of those “other options” is to expand social housing provision. The report certainly adds yet more weight to the case.

“The decline in social housing is at odds with a consistent demand for the few homes there are,” the report says. “In England that social housing waitlist exceeds one million, over 13,000 of which are in Manchester. The changes on this sector have had the greatest impact on young people.”

Later, the report adds: “What is clear when assessing the rental market, is that there is both a need and demand for more social housing. The young people we spoke to across workshops considered social housing to be a more secure and affordable form of tenancy compared to private renting. But pressures on housing stock mean that only a very narrow group are able to live in this type of tenancy.”

For some years, until recently, it was fashionable to declare there was no market for social housing; it was a ‘failed brand’. Clearly, this is not the case. But such homes on a large scale aren’t going to appear any time soon – if ever. But that doesn’t mean the need for them is going to dissipate in the foreseeable future, either.

So, what’s to be done? The report makes a few suggestions (see below). Essentially, the report argues for the creation of new models and routes into home ownership, including new rental products, it claims will help to ease the crisis for Manchester’s young people.

“We need to see new routes to let young people put down roots – including lowering the entry bar for shared ownership from 25% to just 1% and offering reduced rent to give room to save,” Webster added. “[This] would provide much more security than existing options, as well as a route to ownership. There is a greater role for housing associations in providing rent-to-buy options, and council run lettings agencies need to be established which act on behalf of renters and not just landlords.”

Making Home sheds important light on the plight of young people struggling with the crushing realities of a broken housing market. Both its evidence and its arguments are compelling, but its message is not as straightforward as its focal point of home ownership might seem to suggest.

Yes, young people aspire to own a home of their own. Given the tenure’s almost sacred place in our culture, that ought to come as no surprise. Then again, quite a few want access to the security of social housing. But many have lost faith that the day will ever come, for either aspiration.

Above all, going by the report and its launch discussions, dare we say young people don’t want their aspirations determined for them by vested interests with ‘affordable’ products to sell: they want the choice and the self-determination that comes from a housing market that works – across all tenures.

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Market forces

  • Housing associations should consider a model of so-called ‘escalator ownership’. This would see young people rent at a reduced rate so they can save, eventually buying a proportion of the home; in effect a combination of rent to buy and shared ownership
  • Local housing associations, in collaboration with the city council, should create and identify a network of community lettings agencies. These would be not-for-profit organisations, operating to a set of locally agreed standards
  • Mortgage providers and private landlords should work with housing associations and their partners to explore new minimum standards when running checks on prospective buyers and residents. These must consider the growing number of young people working in precarious ‘flexible’ employment

NH

This article first appeared in the print edition of Northern Housing magazine, #7 March 2020

 

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