A few years ago a friend and I who’d started a project about empty homes went to a property auction. We’d had some investment in our idea, and with some more on the way we thought this might be the place to find the second empty home we could do up. For a truly reasonable rent and with a proper and secure tenancy for someone in need of it.
No chance. On the day we were easily outbid by the room-full of property developers and private landlords joyously competing against each other in a party-like bonanza of an atmosphere. “Yields” the auctioneer was calling the rental profits they were going to make, as one after another potential family home in the terraced streets we had our eyes on went for prices our resources couldn’t even dream of matching. All inflated by the “yields” they were going to generate from future separate tiny flats in “Houses of multi-occupation.” Let to the desperate on short-term swingeingly expensive tenancies by what we were finding was an infestation of private landlords.
When we’d set up our good hearted community interest idea we’d imagined our potential might be considerable. Having both come from experiences as activists in neighbourhoods who’d had blight, emptiness and demolitions imposed on them, we’d taken a bet on being able to help out in other neighbourhoods only just beginning to slide, with just one or two tinned up homes in their streets. Which houses, all added up across our city, came to what was variously acknowledged at that time to be a total of between 8,000 and 10,000 vacant homes in Liverpool.
We’d also bet on the owners of those empty homes. “They can’t all be grasping and self-interested” we’d reassure each other, as we drove away from meeting yet another private landlord who was exactly that.
And to be fair we did find one good one. One. And all worked happily together doing up the empty house they couldn’t do up themselves without our help. But we never found another, and because of several different circumstances. But chief among them was the infestation of private landlords. So we folded up our good hearted project and both got on with our lives.
And that was four years ago now. Since when from all I see from the good people at Acorn, the community union, the infestation only seems to have got worse. And, as Arwha Mahdawi speculated in The Guardian recently, is set to get almost unimaginably worse now that even bigger and more corporate private landlords are moving in on the empty homes bonanza:
“The year is 2070. Nobody owns a home any more; the concept of individuals possessing property has gone the way of the floppy disk. Instead, a few large corporations control all the world’s real estate and people “subscribe” to holistic housing solutions on their iPhone 78X in the same way they currently subscribe to Netflix. You can pay your monthly subscription in billionaire-backed cryptocurrency: BezosCoin, MuskCoin or ZuckCoin. If you default on your housing sub (nobody uses old-fashioned terms such as “rent” any more) you are dispatched to Mars to pay off your debt via indentured servitude in intergalactic Amazon warehouses.
I’m not saying that’s exactly how things are going to be in 50 years (the warehouses may well be on Jupiter), but, without major policy changes, it looks depressingly as though that’s the way the housing market is headed.”
Private landlords, they’re like a disease. And they’ve got out of control.