Last night I spoke at a hustings event, organised by Islington Private Tenants, about the challenges facing people renting their homes in the private sector in Islington.
The Islington South and Finsbury constituency has 12,665 households living in privately rented accommodation. 26% of households in the borough rent from a private landlord, compared to 27% who are social tenants and 28% who are owner-occupiers. The number of private tenants in Islington increased by 85% between 2001 and 2011.
But many renters face a raw deal in the private sector, where a third of homes do not meet the decent homes standard and tenants face up to £1,700 a year in additional heating costs due to poor insulation. Tenure is also much less secure, with many living in fear of receiving an eviction notice at any moment from a landlord who is not required to give any reason for doing so.
When I first stood as a candidate in Islington South and Finsbury 10 years ago, the retiring MP Chris Smith told me that if I didn't know a lot about housing, I'd better learn quickly. It's often been said that politics in Islington begins and ends with housing, and last night's hustings provided a much needed opportunity for the thousands of private renters in the area to hear the candidates' views on the issues that matter to them.
It was an interesting experience, not least because the other candidates and their parties seemed to have so little to offer in terms of solutions to the problems renters face. You had the Tory candidate saying he was in favour of the bedroom tax because we need to get the housing benefit bill down (even though spending on housing benefit has risen by £2.4 billion under the Tories); you had the Liberal candidate making policy up on the hoof and claiming to oppose the bedroom tax (even though it was Liberal votes that allowed the Tories to introduce it in the first place); you had warm words about more social housing from the Green candidate, but no detail on how they would be paid for; and you had a UKIP candidate who – predictably enough – blamed everything on immigration.
Islington's private tenants deserve so much better than that. I've been the first to admit that Labour didn't always get it right in government, and that we should have built more social housing than we did. But I'm proud to be one of the London radicals that have been pushing within the party for an ambitious housing policy that deals head-on with the problems private tenants face.
Now we have commitments that the next Labour government will introduce stable tenancies of three years' length, with rent increases capped during this period, and much stronger protections for tenants against unfair evictions. We would ban letting agents from ripping off private tenants with extortionate fees and empower councils to introduce tougher schemes for monitoring private landlords and tackling bad practice. It's an offer that Labour's radical Londoners can be proud of, and will go a long way towards reducing the hardship and insecurity that is all too often a fact of life for private tenants.