How Can Metro Mayors Improve Conditions For Renters?
Since 2016, the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act, has allowed local authorities to come together to negotiate city-region devolution deals and create the role of a Metro Mayor. Since then, these Metro Mayors have been popping up left, right and centre across the country and political spectrum as the directly-elected heads of the new Combined Authorities.
May 2024 will see more Metro Mayors elected than ever before in:
- Greater London – Current Mayor, Sadiq Khan (Labour)
- Greater Manchester – Current Mayor, Andy Burnham (Labour)
- Liverpool City Region – Current Mayor, Steve Rotherham (Labour)
- North of Tyne – Current Mayor, Jamie Driscoll (Independent)
- Tees Valley – Current Mayor, Ben Houchen (Conservative)
- West Midlands City Region – Current Mayor, Andy Street (Conservative)
- West Yorkshire – Current Mayor, Tracy Brabin (Labour)
- East Midlands – First election
In addition, there are three more Mayors with slightly different election schedules:
- Cambridgeshire and Peterborough – next election 2025, current Mayor, Nik Johnson (Labour)
- West of England – next election 2025, Current Mayor, Dan Norris (Labour)
- South Yorkshire (previously Sheffield City Region) – next election 2026, current Mayor, Oliver Coppard (Labour)
Each Combined Authority has negotiated their own devolution deal, each securing a different set of powers and funding. Whilst none are yet as powerful as the London Mayor, many are not too far behind in their ability to intervene in local economies, and of most interest to Marks Out Of Tenancy and the renters we seek to support, on housing.
But, what can these Metro Mayors do for private renters?
Well, on paper, potentially not much – but thinking creatively, a lot!
Policy-powers over the PRS largely continue to reside both above (in Westminster) and below (in local councils) the Metro Mayors, which puts these Mayors in a bit of a sticky situation with one of the biggest policy areas impacting, in particular, city regions.
However, it's worth taking a look at the record of some of them in office so far to get an idea of what they can do for renters by punching up to central government, and coordinating action down with their City Region’s local councils.
Sadiq Khan has been very active on the PRS within the limitations set by national government. Over his term he has developed proposals for overhauling PRS regulation in London – the London Model of Renting – and used that as a platform to secure change. Many of the proposals in it have since been adopted in the Renters Reform Bill for national roll-out. He has been equally vocal about rent controls, both by commissioning research and policy proposals for how a system could work, and by demanding powers from central government to enact them. He has called together experts on renters rights to help develop creative ways to improve their experience within the limits on the GLA.
We can see how this approach has been copied elsewhere, with the likes of Andy Burnham and Steve Rotherham also piling pressure on central government. Attempts have been made by tenant groups to get other Metro Mayors to follow-suit, but have not always been successful.
Whilst this kind of work has its limitations, the media-presence and campaigning capabilities of these Metro Mayors is clearly valuable to the renters movement, and the louder our city regions are calling for change, the better.
Andy Burnham in Greater Manchester further demonstrated the potential of Metro Mayors to secure action from government in the PRS at the recent Housing 2023 conference in Manchester, Tuesday 27 June 2023. At the Conference, Burnham announced the details of his new Trailblazer devolution deal with Westminster and what he will do with the new powers and funding to improve housing.
Burnham stated that in Greater Manchester’s PRS, 15% of homes had a Category 1 HHSRS hazard and over 26% were non-decent. He also spoke about the catastrophe of freezing Local Housing Allowance and that “only 4% of new tenancies in Greater Manchester are affordable within Local Housing Allowance rates – compared to 30% when the rate was frozen in 2020”
Burnham went on to set-out what they would do to correct this, based on a “15-year new mission for Greater Manchester – a healthy home for all by 2038.”
Burnham is working with tenants’ unions, landlord representatives and other stakeholders to develop and introduce this year the Greater Manchester Good Landlord Charter, which will “articulate a clear set of standards that both social landlords and private landlords will be required to meet if they are to be accredited.” Landlords will be encouraged to sign-up by the offer of being signposted to receive funding and logistical support with things like housing standards and retrofit improvements from the Combined Authority.
For tenants, they will be given “a new right to request a GM Property Check”, which would be led by the relevant local authority but with the input of various other agencies including DWP and the fire service. All of this could end with the landlord being issued a formal ‘Property Improvement Plan’ and ultimately with the Combined Authority or constituent council seeking to take ownership of the property.
So that’s some examples of how Metro Mayors can interact with central government to secure change for renters, but what about more directly in their local area?
First up on the list of powers are Spatial Development Strategies. Nearly every Metro Mayor has the power to create a version of one of these things, that sets-region wide planning regulations across their region. In London, Sadiq Khan has used his power to develop a Spatial Development Strategy, “the London Plan”, and set pioneering affordability requirements on Purpose-Built Student Accommodation. Whilst only students live in this type of accommodation, it does not mean that the rents set in it have no impact on the wider PRS.
And it isn’t just on planning where Metro Mayors can help scale-up and coordinate housing regulations and enforcement in their region. Sadiq Khan has also established the London Rogue Landlord Checker https://www.london.gov.uk/rogue-landlord-checker - which brings together data from across local authority housing enforcement teams, so tenants can check whether their current or future landlord has been naughty.
Other Metro Mayors have similarly looked to coordinate the use of landlord licensing schemes and enforcement and work with their Police and Crime Commissioners to tackle landlord behaviour – like illegal evictions.
Nearly every Metro Mayor has a plan on coordinating logistics and funding between Westminster and their local councils to drive up housing standards through green retrofit programmes – as they are often successful key beneficiaries of central government funding in this area. This is because they are able to coordinate the retrofit programmes at a larger scale than individual councils and provide expert, logistical support through things like Retrofit Accelerator programmes. Burnham has been working on a region-wide trainee programme to train existing and bring in a new generation of housing enforcement officers, including providing specific training for all enforcement officers in the risks and remediation of damp and mould and excess cold in housing.
And what does Marks Out Of Tenancy think?
Clearly, Metro Mayors are beginning to take notice of the PRS and what they can do to help tenants. Renters making their voice heard in next year’s elections will be critical to deciding whether this work continues and in particular whether newer, less prominent Metro Mayors take a look at the work of Khan and Burnham in this space and ramp up their work with both Wesminster and their own local authorities.
Here at Marks Out Of Tenancy, we know that we can support many Metro Mayors and their constituent local authorities to take more of a lead on improving the PRS using the powers they have. Marks Out Of Tenancy can provide improved data-pathways for Combined Authorities looking to find poor housing conditions or unlicensed landlords across their city-regions. When developing localised accreditation schemes, Combined Authorities could look to include requirements for good reviews as part of such schemes, or use tenant reviews to see where landlords are not meeting accredited standards - or to coordinate audits. In the absence of more powers from Westminster, Combined Authorities can also use their presence in their City Regions to work with us and empower tenants to take action in the market through reviews in the here and now. So, when these elections come by, ask your Metro Mayor about their plans for the PRS and how they can work with tenants to start a review-lution.