Dr Rebecca Searle discusses the ESRC funding proposal she developed with support from CAPPE looking at affordability, inequality and the private rented sector in Britain, 1953-2021.

The affordability of the private rented sector is a key issue in contemporary Britain. Tenants today spend on average more than a third of their income on rent, while those living in cities such as London or Brighton shell out closer to half their income on housing. Rents have increased dramatically since the 1950s, when tenants spent less than 10% of their incomes on housing. A growing gulf has emerged between the housing costs of private tenants and owner-occupiers. While in the mid-twentieth century tenants and owner-occupiers devoted a similar share of income to housing, those buying their houses today spend on average less than 20% of income on mortgage repayments. Not only have owner-occupiers benefited from rising house prices, but they spend less of their income each month on housing. This means that tenure has become an increasingly important driver of inequality in contemporary Britain. Britain has some of the highest levels of inequality across Europe. In order to bring levels of inequality within international norms, Britain must address the affordability crisis in the private rented sector.

Our project investigates the causes and consequences of declining affordability in the private rented sector and assesses how tenure has contributed to growing inequality since the mid-twentieth century. We compare the cost of housing in Britain with other European nations to explore a range of policy frameworks that better support affordable rented housing. This research will help policymakers evaluate different responses to the contemporary crisis by providing an understanding of the historical evolution of the private rented sector, the causes and consequences of previous policy decisions and the outcomes engendered by alternative choices.

We study the ways in which communities experience and negotiate rising housing costs through a case study of Brighton and Hove, one of the least affordable cities in the country. The project was developed through a series of participatory community workshops hosted by the Radical Futures Housing Forum, where over 150 members of the community participated in a discussion about housing priorities in the city and identified the private rented sector as the tenure the community was most concerned about. We will work in collaboration with Brighton and Hove City Council, landlords, tenants and community organisations to develop solutions to the housing crisis in the city. This has wider application as an ethical and solution-focused model of housing research. By centring genuinely co-produced research, it allows communities and partners in other locations to produce an approach that is sensitive to local issues and develops sustainable solutions to the community’s housing priorities. We will build an international network of community engaged housing researchers to explore how research co-produced by academics and a range of community stakeholders can support the development of place-based solutions to the housing crisis.

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