PRS – Housing the forgotten Majority

On my birthday today I attended the Place North West, ‘Housing the forgotten Majority’ – that’s how you roll when your 34 apparently..

The event was good, and very insightful, focusing on ‘the forgotten majority’. This, generally being young families, older adults, and non-young professionals.

It’s very true, that there is a massive gap in the housing market for 3-4 bedroom houses for the affordable private rented sector.

What you see as PRS, as described well by David Smith-Milne of PlaceFirst, is shiny new apartment blocks providing 1-2 bedroom apartments in the city, sometimes offering a roof terrace which is highly under-utilised given that Manchester and other northern cities are generally wet, cold and windy.

What you don’t see as PRS is family housing, providing flexibility and choices for the consumer, within hard working demographics and not just focusing on Manchester City Centre. I was born and raised, like many, in a hard working, tough, demographic, so I support their view. They have schemes in Liverpool, Morecambe, Accrington and Hartlepool, which is brilliant and shows that this type of PRS has widespread demand.

There has to be consumer care and the schemes integrate with local neighbourhoods and provide social integration. David mentioned that they create open spaces within their developments where children can kick a ball around. This certainly worked for me as a child, and think that it would help others too. I was a champion at kerby as a child!

PlaceFirst are also replacing the possibility of an under utilised roof garden, to a children’s covered play area to the roof tops of buildings, which is an efficient use of space, and brilliant integration for communities.

It made me realise that more certainly needs to be done in this sector, and companies like PlaceFirst are doing it very well.

Steve Modric, head of strategy at Homes and Communities Agency mentioned that diversification needs to be provided, and I totally agree. Government is supporting this, and asking for local authorities to provide sites for affordable PRS in a recent white paper.

Paul Beardmore, director of Housing at Manchester City Council confirmed a 0.4% vacancy in the city centre, for residential, and that there was 50% of graduate retention last year from the two Manchester universities. This is wonderful, and is 15% up from the previous year, but the focus of this supply is for the stereotype PRS of 1-2 bed units for young professionals. Providing for the privileged.

Nurses, care workers etc need to be provided for. Hard working people need a home and need to be helped in society, and PRS can provide this. Hopefully there will be similar institutional level activity in the funding of affordable PRS schemes that we have seen in the ‘orthodox’ young professional, shiny tower schemes.

Notwithstanding that, the general PRS schemes in the city have filled a whole in the previous supply levels, and have significantly boosted Manchester as a city. What needs to happen now, is for the ripple to run through to family housing, which could also see a much needed stimulus in outer Manchester towns and boost the overall Greater Manchester economy.