Is it part of the government’s strategy to get people’s hopes up?

Those of us languishing in the private rented sector have twice in the past week had positive policies dangled before our eyes before being snatched away as the Housing White Paper finally landed.

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First, there were reports in the Sun that there would be more much needed building on green belt land. Then the Observer claimed government would give landlords incentives to offer longer term tenancies.

These promised more supply of homes to push down rents, while giving us greater stability in our homes in the meantime.

But the wording of both was too tantalisingly vague to be of any real substance, and so it proved.

There might be more building on the green belt – if councils exhaust all other options.

And tenants might have longer tenancies – if they can get a tenancy in a purpose-built private rented development.

There is little change to the status quo. Councils might have fewer excuses to allocate green belt for housing – but it already happens.

The companies building to rent are already relying on long term tenants to give them reliable returns, though the government says it will also “consider what more we can do to support families already renting privately”. This isn’t low hanging fruit – it’s windfall.

Build to rent investors are being given so much support by the government as it is, to allow them to get away with not providing sub-market elements, or an enhanced level of service to tenants, would be irresponsible.

While “affordable private rent” is welcome – even if it is linked to the market – the big myth about build to rent is that it’s the answer to declining home ownership levels.

As Angus Dodd of Quintain revealed, his company’s flats in Wembley are going for £20,000 a year – more than half the average household income for London. Many people who can afford that will be able to buy pretty soon.

The word that got me excited on Sunday was “incentives”. What exactly can the government do to spur landlords into offering greater security? Mortgage interest relief – already being phased out – would only affect 20% of landlords. So surely not that.

Maybe they were going to resurrect Zac Goldsmith’s doomed mayoral policy to use a system of licensing to encourage longer tenancies? Or maybe put a cost on the use of Section 21 no-fault evictions, as we proposed in October, and Portland, Oregon introduced last week?

Nope, none of those. These incentives appear to be existing government grants.

The vast majority of private renters will remain untouched by the White Paper. The fight for real security of tenure continues.

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