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Portsmouth HMO Proposals Threaten 1,000 Evictions


Portsmouth's stringent standards for HMO's have already caused a local affordable housing shortage – shown both by rents increasing faster locally than elsewhere and the slower rate of population growth. 

This trend looks to be taking a turn for the worse as, based on our estimates and initial feedback from members, we expect proposed increases in the standards expected of HMOs to take at least 1,000 rooms out of circulation in the city – further pushing up rents and increasing homelessness for those at the very bottom of the ladder.

What Does Population Data Show? 

This month's release of 2021 census data makes interesting reading (How the population changed in Portsmouth, Census 2021 - ONS), Portsmouth dropped from being the 83rd largest local authority to being just 90th as everywhere else grew faster than we did – so we now drop below authority areas like Sutton and Merton in Surrey which are both now larger than Portsmouth. The population across the South East grew by 7.5% yet in Portsmouth it was just 1.5% growing from 205,100 in 2011 to 208,100 in 2021.

By comparison, Havant grew 2.9% and Fareham 2.6% - only Gosport was worse, decreasing in size by 0.9%. Biggest growth in the South East was Dartford at 20%. 

You can argue that Portsmouth is an island and there is nowhere for more people to go, and Portsmouth is the most densely populated area in the South East with around 37 people per football pitch sized piece of land in the city. That sounds a lot until you realise that in Tower Hamlets they have a density of 112 people per football pitch – so more than 3x as many people for the space available.

The difference is that denser housing is allowed there whereas HMO's are strongly discouraged here and where you are allowed them, you will typically only be allowed 4 occupants in a property that would be approved for 5 or 6 in Southampton or Brighton.

Another interesting detail is that Portsmouth's over-65's have increased by 12% whereas the 15-64 year olds have increased by 0.1% and under 15's have decreased by 1.4%. Symptomatic of the migration of jobs from the city and the inability for younger persons to move into the city – another indicator of the lack of homes for young single people and confirmation that HMO dwellers are not all 20'something rebel rousers, but increasingly, older people with limited means and few other options.

Sadly, if you mention HMOs - no one ever thinks of the older people who live in them, yet an increasing proportion of HMO tenants are from the older groups within the city - there are many that have been in the same house for 20 or more years, which definitely does not fit with the 'accepted view' of noisy, young people partying and general causing mayhem.

What Does Rent Data Show?

Another indicator of the dearth of housing for those who want to minimise rent to allow them to save for a deposit on a place of their own, or for young professionals wanting to house share with friends or contractors working in the city for 6 or 12 months is the higher level of rents locally compared to elsewhere.

According to ONS data, Portsmouth rents for shared rooms have risen 17% compared to just 6% for the rest of the South East for the 'Lower Quartile' whereas the average have only risen by 10% and the upper quartile by 7%. This is consistent with our view that those on the bottom of the ladder are being pushed out of the local housing market as the properties with the lowest standards are either upgraded (small HMO to Super HMO) or refurbished but then let at higher rents to recover the upgrade costs. There is obviously a strong case for improving standards but local decision makers need to understand that this has a direct correlation with rents and thus affordability. One of the many reasons people are not choosing or able to move to Portsmouth.

And this against a backdrop of a shortage (according to the councils own draft local plan) of more than 2,500 rooms in the city:

"Shared Housing

2.2.27 The Local Housing Needs Assessment identifies a need to accommodate an additional 2,545 single person households. Historically, single person

households have been accommodated through studios or one bedroom dwellings and in HMOs. Whilst these dwelling types do provide for the needs of

single person households, such provision can reduce the availability of family homes through the conversion and sub-division of larger dwellings.

2.2.28 To meet the need for accommodation for single person households and to prevent further loss of family dwellings, the council would support the

development of purpose-built accommodation for this group, as appropriate. 

And repeated here:

2.3.6 The assessment identifies a need to accommodate an additional 2,545 single person households. Historically, this need has been met through one-bedroom dwellings and HMOs. The assessment also highlights a continued demand for HMO accommodation in the city to meet the housing needs of a number of groups, in particular those on low incomes, those in receipt of benefit payments as well as students and young professionals. Although it is expected that increased provision of purpose built student accommodation may reduce"

What Are The Proposed Changes?

The consultation on Additional Licensing is still ongoing in Portsmouth and as part of that, a draft of the new 'Space and Amenity Standards' for HMO's has been produced. Whilst this is a far better document than any previous attempts and it is much, much clearer – it does include some details which, if the standards specify the 'acceptable minimum' and are strictly enforced based on that, we believe will take a huge number of rooms out of the local market.

One of our biggest concerns is the statement that a 'galley style kitchen in an HMO' is to have a minimum width of 2.4m (7 feet 11 inches in old money). With so many terraced houses in Portsmouth having a frontage of what was built as 12 or 13 feet, with the kitchen as a lean-to addition at the back, narrower by the width of the side alley – the many will struggle to achieve this width. Our estimate is that this one change could remove over 200 houses from the small HMO market in the city.

If a standard worktop is 600mm and you need a metre to ensure doors can open and people can pass up and down between the counters, a 2.2m minimum would make more sense although we would argue that 2m is perfectly usable – but like so many of the new rules, it would appear that Portsmouth has decided that any shared accommodation needs to be 3 or 4 star rating and anyone who can only afford 1 or 2 star accommodation needs to look elsewhere.

Another odd one, is that ceiling height needs to be 2.3m across 75% of the room. Presumably, this is targeted at attic conversions where the sloping ceiling area is extensive. There are rules already in common use – you work out the floor area of the room only including areas where the ceiling is 1.5m or more high. This works well and is applied across the industry but for some reason, Portsmouth needs to do it differently.

Firstly – why 2.3m? Are there really that many people who want attic HMO rooms who are over 7 feet tall? Secondly, imagine your full width penthouse suite – lets say it is 100 sq m and is wall to wall glass, with marble and high end contemporary furniture and fittings. However, because of the stepped ceiling only 24 square metres of the room are more than 2.3m and the rest is just 2.2m (7 feet 2 if you wondered) – well, if you had a room like that, you would not be able to let it to that nice guy who asked for help outside the local coffee shop as it does not meet the Portsmouth criteria for an HMO room - but you could probably use it as a full size tennis court!

However, not all would be lost because in the event that the above room is not deemed acceptable, you can just make a smaller 6.5m2 bedroom by installing two stud walls in one corner and as long as it has a window and an area of around 5m2 that meets the 2.3m height rule, you'll get a pass for this bedroom instead. The rest of the original room can be used as communal storage space!

Add to these oddities the increase in communal space from 34m2 to 36.5m2 for 11 sharing and an increase in minimum size of dining room / lounge space to 11m2 and it is not surprising that we estimate at least 1,000 rooms will be lost in the city if these new standards are implemented.

Just for completeness, it is also proposed that single occupancy bedsits need to increase from 13m2 to 17m2 and uninsulated conservatories, lean-to's and outhouses can no longer count toward communal space.

Our view...

One of the PDPLA committee members has already decided to get rid of his 16 HMO's in the city, others agree that they will probably lose at least 50% of their small HMO's over the next 2 years as they will no longer be viable. (And remember, every small HMO sold recently has, as often as not, been snapped up by a developer to convert into a Super HMO rather than reverting to family use).

Local councillors may be over the moon at the thought of less HMOs, but given that Portsmouth already has a dearth of accommodation for single people, higher rents than elsewhere and a population that appears to be stagnating as a result, they would be wise to reconsider the impact of some of these changes before it is too late.

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