Renting on the edge: The fight for affordable housing in Cardiff’s soaring market

Rental prices in Cardiff are soaring, leaving fewer affordable options for residents. What are the worries for them and what are they having to do to survive?

Private rental prices in Wales increased by 6.9% in the 12 months to October 2023. This was the highest of all the countries in Great Britain.

In Cardiff’s surging rental market, tenants are reaching breaking point. Tenants are struggling and landlords are leaving the housing market in worrying numbers, according to SpareRoom, a company matches homeowners with people looking to rent rooms.

This crisis didn’t happen overnight. Cardiff’s rental market has become increasingly competitive, pushing affordability out of reach for ordinary residents. According to Owen Kesteven , the Chair of Acorn Cardiff, said at a recent meeting at the Quaker Meeting House, “the situation in the city is dire, with rents steadily rising while the quality of housing isn’t getting any better.

“It feels like every time I pay rent, I’m just waiting for the next increase—it’s relentless, and my pay just doesn’t keep up,” said Alex, a Cardiff resident struggling to afford her one-bedroom flat.

“There’s a big problem with the old houses in Wales because we have a very wet climate and the houses get quite leaky and mouldy,” Kesteven said.

The figures from Capital Economics also reflect the rapidly rising cost of renting, which hit a record high last year as more landlords sold off their properties, leaving a mismatch between the supply of properties on the market and the demand from tenants.

Rising rents compound these living conditions, with many renters finding it increasingly difficult to afford their homes. Guarantor requirements also pose additional hurdles, particularly for students and international renters.

The crisis in Cardiff’s rental market disproportionately affects certain demographic groups. Kesteven said, “The number one are students, who are often inexperienced in the rental market, are prime targets for aggressive landlords. The number two are generally disabled people.  The power imbalance in the relationship between landlords and tenants is particularly felt by those with fewer resources and less ability to advocate for themselves.

“The cause of the crisis in the rental market in Cardiff is the lack of regulation and the lack of political will to address the problems”, Kesteven said, “There is a conflict of interest as a significant portion of MPs are landlords themselves, leading to a regulatory environment that heavily favors landlords over tenants.”

The absence of legislation and political will to bring about change has left renters vulnerable to exploitation. This has also led to a decline in the quality of rental properties and an increase in the cost of living in the city.

On the other hand, for many landlords, tighter tax rules and rising interest rates have made renting less profitable.

In response to these challenges, a union for the community called Acorn have stepped up to advocate for renters’ rights. Through direct action and community organizing, Acorn has managed to draw attention to the issues facing Cardiff’s renters and has achieved notable successes.

Acorn Cardiff members chatted about rent controls and ideas for future campaign.

“We do actions that leverage our numbers rather than money, we want to empower people to help themselves. People come to us, we organize them, we train them, ultimately, they fight for their future and that makes them empowered to go forward,” said Kesteven.

Kesteven’s first commercial case involved a campaign to prevent a drastic rent increase for the local Aubergine Cafe. When whose landlords the big community figures wanted to get the rent double overnight, they froze their rent for a year and give the cafe time to move out. And at last they got a new place.

Acorn Cardiff supported the survival of Aubergine Cafe, a safe space for neurodivergent, disabled and queer people. Kesteven said, “it was a huge victory for us to protect the warm bank and bring the whole community together.”

Although the organisation have achieved some successes, they still face significant obstacles. Legal battles and skepticism from landlords are constant challenges. Landlords and letting agencies, who have legal teams at their disposal, are often ready to challenge tenant actions in court.

Acorn Cardiff is the only branch in Wales. Kesteven said, “Our big goals this year are to become not just the only branch in Wales, but to become one of the branches in Wales. We want to set up in other cities. We want to make sure everyone has support that we can provide here. And we want to grow our union as much as possible, because the more the bigger we are, the more more people we can help.”