With around 2.66 million private landlords in the UK discrimination in the property market is very tricky to monitor and a lot of the time even pick up on when you are the one being discriminated against. To make matters more difficult, under the governments ‘Right to Rent’ scheme landlords are required to carry out immigration checks or they may incur up to a £3,000 fine and even imprisonment of up to 5 years. Many believe this encourages racial discrimination in the market and this has left many more questioning how we can abolish this. With only 1.2% of people working in the built environment identifying as black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME), further questions are raised around the advice and support available to all areas of the market, not just tenants.
One would assume that processes have only improved with time and as a result equality, but since the ‘Right to Rent’ scheme was introduced the Residential Landlords Association reported that 44% of private landlords are now less likely to rent to those without a British passport. This has arguably only worsened as the Home Office have just last week tried to digitise the process by introducing an online screening service where landlords could simply vet an individual based on their name or race so as not to risk a fine or worse yet, deciding it may save themselves time without carrying out the proper immigration checks. Stories don’t seem to show any signs of improvement either – only a few years ago the so called ‘buy-to-let king’ Fergus Wilson, who owned over 1,000 properties in the UK, was reprimanded in court for banning tenants based on their ethnicity.
Such shocking stories leave many to wonder if enough has been done to protect landlords and tenants from racial discrimination in housing, however it doesn’t appear to all be doom and gloom. There are many impressive grassroots movements to be aware of across social media such as Black Landlords UK (BLUK) who host quarterly events (open to everyone of course), with keynote speakers providing advice and a space to encourage black landlords to network. Most notably, over the last few years BAME in Property seems to be making huge strides in improving ethnic diversity in the property and planning industries by tackling the issue on all fronts. By engaging the Ministry of Housing and local government, contributing to industry-wide research and providing a united front by joining other diversity groups like Women in Planning, BAME in Property along with their founder Priya Shah have received wide acclaim and have gained many partners as a result. This kind of comprehensive work should inspire all looking to promote diversity in property.
It goes without saying there’s always a lot more that can be done which naturally starts with education. On the surface there doesn’t appear to be a big enough narrative on racism in housing but there are actually many useful sources published to better educate yourself – some key reading that still maintains strong relevance dating all the way back to the 1960s. Sarah Neal published a symposium on race and community, focusing on John Rex and Robert Moore’s study of migrant settlement and community issues in Birmingham in the early 1960s. She argues that 50 years on the study resonates with modern day urban environments and theoretical concerns. There has also been a lot of work around racial disparity in housing released since this was released in 2014, markedly from the Human City Institute and their piece ‘A Window on Race and Housing Disadvantage and Exclusion’. This however stops with the government and systemic issues need to be addressed, Theresa May’s racial disparity audit was a huge step in the right direction but this doesn’t seem to have been followed up with any major positive changes in housing.
Whilst progress has clearly been made there are clear structural issues in place that arguably facilitate racial discrimination and make it harder for black people and ethnic minorities to rent than white people, primarily the ‘Right to Rent’ scheme – as found by the Court of Appeal. If everyday landlords are being forced to make decisions on immigration they need to be held accountable for their rejections and the process should be made more democratic – this is a key example of the need for a better systematic regulatory framework to be put in place by the government to hold landlords accountable. The narrative is there as are support groups such as BLUK and the Race Equality Foundation so with continued support and more all-encompassing work like that of BAME in Property, we should all be positive significant improvements will be made. With all that being said – is there more we can be doing to identify and eliminate these structural problems?