Good morning conference.
I propose that we, the Progressive Unionist Party, should enshrine in policy a principled demand for a system of Rent regulation in Northern Ireland.
The reasons I believe Northern Ireland should follow other regions such as New York, Paris, Singapore and Berlin in implementing such a measure I shall now lay out before you, after which I shall go into a bit more detail as to how I believe this proposal could be implemented.
Not enough social housing stock exists, that’s the reality. Communitiesni.gov.uk reports that “the total number of applicants on the waiting list (with no existing NIHE/Housing association tenancy) on the 31st March 2015 was…
Anyone want to guess?
And with the acquisition of a mortgage now becoming a lottery dream even for securely employed professional couples the private rental market is the only hope of plugging the gap. But the price of renting privately is also too expensive for a great many, and for many who perhaps could, just about, afford the rent, the deposit is what puts a home beyond them.
An unaffordable system of housing is doing nothing whatsoever to make Northern Ireland economically competitive. High rents are an unattractive business cost to companies considering setting up operations here, they need to recruit employees and a lack of affordable accommodation may well make them take a second look at Paris or Berlin.
Fergus O’Sullivan, of CityLab.com writes of One of the World’s most economically vibrant City’s, Berlin, which, like NY, Paris and Singapore, has introduced Rent regulation.
“Berlin’s brand new Rent Control Laws are already bringing down costs. That is the conclusion announced yesterday by Germany’s number one real estate site after tallying its latest figures.
Barely a month after the German Capital introduced a new set of Rules that limits rent increases within a given area, figures collected by Immobilienscout24 show that the average cost of a new Berlin rental contract has dropped 3.1% within a month.”
And let’s not overlook the potential benefits of rent regulation for small Ulster businesses. With a sudden increase in disposable income those of us of more modest means are much more likely to enjoy any new found spends in the local economy, moving our money to Panama is seldom our style. Those working families re-capitalised by rent regulation would suddenly become a richer revenue stream for your locally owned shop, restaurant, and your community facilities, such as leisure centres, bolstering their viability and maintaining their case for government support.
A reduction in rent would also mean a degree of relief for the tax payer by way of reducing housing benefit payments. The London pressure group Generation Rent makes the argument that…
“By supporting rent control, politicians have an opportunity to do something that will have real, beneficial impact to millions of people while at the same time saving the taxpayer money through the Housing Benefit bill, £9 billion of which goes straight into the pockets of private sector landlords”.
Our opponents will tell us that Rent control would only contaminate the market. It would interfere with the free market which, if left alone would correct all these problems itself.
Yet, as the Irish Labour Party Senator Aideen Hayden highlighted in 2014,
“Denmark de-regulated rent in the hope that they would get more supply, it didn’t, and has had to re-introduce rent control.”
Furthermore, as evidenced by the National Housing Foundation, it was under a system of Rent Control in 1966 that the record number of UK homes were built. Almost 450,000 by social housing projects, 250,000 by private investment.
If the market, rent regulation free serves us all then why are, as reported by homeless charity Shelter NI, “more than fifty families or individuals declared homeless every day”?
Why has, as reported by Luke Barnes in the Belfast Telegraph, “homelessness in Northern Ireland doubled since the year 2000”?
Why did, as reported in www.nihe.gov.uk website, “during 2014/15 the number of households presenting as homeless increased from 18,862 to 19,621… A 4% increase overall”? – That’s within just one year –
If the market has got this, why, earlier this year in Belfast, did five people within the space of a few short weeks die as they lay homeless on the street?
Tony McQuillan, Director of Shelter NI was quoted, again in the Belfast Telegraph, as saying, “justice demands an end to long term homelessness.”
I couldn’t agree more.
Our opponents will then possibly shoot down our proposal as a violation of freedom, an attack on entrepreneurial enterprise.
Freedom is a great meaty concept. I like debating freedom(s). You may have noticed. And I believe the homelessness I’ve touched upon so far represents an atrocious violation of freedoms.
The United Nations Universal Declaration of human rights in its introductory paragraph reads of how the…
“… Recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”
I think those five poor souls who died had been denied the freedoms of dignity and equality.
This document provides sharper clarity in Article 25/1…
“Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care…”
Article 8/1 of ECHR succinctly states…
“Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.”
The very notion that a person may not have a home to live in is such a violation of freedom that this document, the European Convention on Human Rights takes each person having a home as a basic assumption.
Surely this invites a debate as to whether inaction would be legal. It certainly would not be moral.
My argument is simply that the freedom of one person to draw unlimited profit from his/her ownership of ten properties should not supersede the freedom of any family, or indeed any human being, to have a home. The thousands on hopeless waiting lists are not referred to as property-less, they are referred to as homeless. They don’t want a property, they don’t want a portfolio, they want, a home.
The Rent is too High is a cutting edge document by the London pressure Generation Rent, and it is this research that has largely informed my proposal.
Ladies and gentlemen, The Progressive Unionist Party, when in Government would seek to bring before the assembly legislation to establish a quadrangular strategy to combat homelessness in Northern Ireland. Its Four points of action would be, Rent Regulations, Increased investment in Social Housing, legislation to facilitate Government acquisition of strategically unused property, and an increase in the default period of tenancy from six months to eighteen months. The Primary initiative of the four being Rent Regulation, a form of Rent Regulation which obliges landlords, corporate or otherwise, to pay a surcharge of 25p in every pound which they charge over the recommended rent cap. I must add at this point that Generation Rents recommended surcharge is twice that, a surcharge I found extreme, and so modified for my proposal. This rent cap would be set at 50% of the annual rates bill, as a monthly rent. For example, I live in a tiny terrace house in East Belfast. My annual rates bill is usually around £600.00. That would mean that, should the owner of such a property wish to let it out the rent cap would be £300.00 per month. Should the Landlord wish to charge the tenant £400.00 per month, he would be obliged to contribute £25.00 /per month to a fund which would then be used to tackle the issue of homelessness, primarily by building fresh social housing stock. This law would apply only to landlords who have a portfolio of ten properties or more. Again, I have softened the recommendations of Generation Rent for my proposal, as they leave no such acknowledgement of the landlord with a small portfolio, perhaps the one who has merely inherited a modest investment opportunity from a deceased relative, perhaps a parent. If I may coin a phrase, I am not here to in any way demonise the working class landlord who lives down the street.
My favourite document of all remains, The Principles of Loyalism, written by the late Billy Mitchell, a man honoured every year at this conference with good reason. Mitchell wrote of what he theorised as Loyalism’s four principles, each of them relevant today and one of my favourite paragraphs is found within Principle one, the Material well-being of Ulster…
“Access to the necessities of life is a basic Human right for all citizens. Loyalists have a duty to ensure satisfactory housing that meets the social needs of our people…”
Folks, the mechanics of my resolution would no doubt be scrutinised by standing orders, our party executive, and put forth for consultation very widely throughout our party. I’m not suggesting that this presentation is ready to be placed before the electorate as good to go policy. I am asking you for your vote today so that we as a party can put some flesh on the bones and get this debate started in earnest. That we can begin to formulate our answers to the problems that establishment Unionism along with its partners have shown no inclination to fix.
Let us start preparing for Government.
Ladies and Gentlemen, fellow Progressive Unionists,
I commend this resolution to Party Conference.