Renting privately is, for many people in Portsmouth, the only way they can get a place to stay. Only recently has council house building increased significantly after years of stasis, yet the fact Portsmouth is so densely populated and the time it takes to build new homes means it can only ever be part of the solution.
Therefore, the private rented sector (PRS) must play a significant role in housing people in this city. Yet many people see barriers. As part of this strategy, the Council conducted the most comprehensive survey of private tenants and landlords this city has ever seen. I want to thank the nearly one thousand people who took part. What they say is interesting.
70% of private tenants feel trapped, with no plan or ability to move from where they are. They want a safe, secure and affordable place to live, tough action on criminal tenants and landlords and access to rent deposits and guarantees that help them move (the latter is something the Council is now piloting). Anecdotally, many people on the Council's housing waiting list say the absence of those things - rightly or not - makes them want to stay on that list rather than rent privately.
The vast majority of landlords are not commercial organisations, but people who see being a landlord as a way to supplement income or investment. More than one in six fell into it by accident. Yet what they want overlaps with tenants' desires in many ways. They want secure tenants living in a safe property that is not empty for long periods. They also want criminal landlords and tenants dealt with. They are in it for the long-term and want a low risk, low return investment.
Alongside this is the fact that many people living near these properties - especially shared houses (HMOs in the jargon) - fear rubbish in the forecourts or on the streets, noise late at night or 'the wrong sort of person' residing at the property.
What this strategy aims to do is find ways to overcome these barriers to a PRS that is attractive to current and potential tenants and landlords and respectful of their neighbours. This cannot be done overnight and this strategy does not pretend to do that. Instead, it puts forward an integrated, long-term, ambitious and radical package of measures that covers extra advice and support - including financial support - for tenants and landlords and tougher enforcement measures, including consulting on additional licensing for smaller HMOs, where there are a significant number of complaints, and a comprehensive mediation service for tenant/landlord disputes, backed up by Britain's first 'housing court'.
Doing nothing is easy, but not an option. Believing that one silver bullet of a policy will solve a complex, interacting range of issues sounds great, but does not offer the integrated solution required to deliver a PRS that works for Portsmouth. The Council cannot achieve that goal by itself and this strategy does not pretend it can. It must - and will - work with tenants, landlords, Government and other statutory bodies to overcome the barriers to renting privately. This strategy allows the Council to do that. That is why it is important that we get everyone's views on its suggestions.
What is clear already is that overcoming the barriers to renting privately in Portsmouth requires carrots and sticks that help free tenants from the trap they feel they are in, help landlords get the low risk, low return investment they want and punish tenants and landlords that deserve it in a way that does not harm the many in pursuit of the few.
I am delighted to offer up this ambitious, comprehensive and radical package of measures for the next five years for the thoughts of the people of this city. Only by working together can we make renting privately work in Portsmouth now and in the future.