Swansea Housing – Cost & Perception
An article was published recently in the local media , regarding a house advertised for sale in Swansea for £2.6 million and it raises the question – how sustainable is the current attitude toward housing?
Over a 5-year range 2014-2019, the asking price in Swansea to rent a typical 2 bed terraced house was around £600  and a 3 bed equivalent around £700 . Only 4 years later to 2017, these increased dramatically to around £700  and £800-900  respectively. In terms of purchase asking prices for the same houses in the same time periods, these were around £120,000  and 150,000 , raising to 150,000  and 180-200,000 .
These figures need to be contextualised in relation to average salaries for people wanting to rent or buy in Swansea. Average wages (at time of writing – March 2019) are illustrated below, with 3 key employment areas of note. A teaching assistant earns £12,194; store manager 22,162; software developer 30,492  Although these are very different skills areas, they highlight significant proportions of the local workforce and population. At the lower end of the scale, when someone is trying to establish themselves in a highly skilled and demanding area such as teaching, earning 12,000 is an incredibly difficult salary to simply have day to day for the most basic of requirements, so the idea of renting a house of choice or even buying is very much a pipe dream. On the higher end with a software developer, even though this will allow for a more secure lifestyle, it would still mean a single person has to take a cautious attitude to their spending, with minimal opportunity to save and certainly to the level of building a deposit for a home being nigh on impossible.
The direct impact of this can be very clear to see even at the most basic level – a house for sale would likely no longer be accessible to a potential purchaser, who would then need to rent; a tenant with the funds and requirement for a 3 bed house would need to move down to a 2 bed; a 2 bed tenant would need something like a 1 bed or house share; these would then likely need to subscribe to already over-subscribed social housing waiting lists. Then the question is – where do those that require the cheapest method of housing (social housing, major problems can arise from a seemingly basic change in society, exacerbating already incredibly stark problems, potentially with government financial assistance) find a home? Could they even find a home at all?
As can be seen from the housing figures and related to large variations of average salary, it raises the question of – if people are unable to buy or event rent homes locally, what happens to those local populations? With a myriad of possibilities such as moving to other towns, living with relatives or friends, or even as bad as falling through the cracks and becoming homeless, this has a dramatic individual impact but also many knock-on effects that are rarely discussed. With less money available, this is in turn not spent at local businesses, who will then struggle to pay staff or afford costs such as high leases, who then purchase less products from their suppliers or potentially cease trading, all impacting individual incomes and coming full circle back to the original problem.
Provision & Responsibility
We are not only seeing letting agents and landlords increase their asking prices, they are also actively welcoming these huge increases as “great news for our landlords who have been waiting a long time for rents to be reflective of the rest of the UK”, justifying it by stating the rest of the UK should have the same behaviour as London – “It’s taken a while for the London Effect to get here, and I think what happened last year was a correction in rents to reflect demand”. The quotes are taken from a blog by McCartan Lettings in January 2017  which raises the question of who are letting agents and estate agents acting in the best interests of and what should governments be doing to correct this imbalance.
Letting and estate agents are a business. Putting to one side the views individuals may have on how they operate, we recognise their aims are as profit making organisations. However, given most letting agents operate on a 10% of rental income and estate agents charge roughly £1000 minimum for a house sale to the buyer and seller, these should be sufficient incomes given the number of houses that are sold or rented, even at the lower end of £100-150,000 and £400-500 per month. So, when rents and sales are being pushed in urban areas such as Sandfields, Brynmill, Uplands and Sketty to levels described previously, there is a clear question of what the true aims are? Clearly higher rents and sales mean higher profits, but when that is in areas where the typical person looking for a home (note: a home to live, not a property to treat as an investment) cannot afford these at the various levels, who are the target audience the agents are expecting to capture?
This raises the question of gentrification in Swansea and many other areas of Wales. Gower and Mumbles are unique in the general wealth contained in those areas, but the suburban areas have never historically had the same makeup and are never likely to attract the same type of person. So why do agencies expect this to happen? Is there a concerted effort to make Swansea a new Padstow, where most locals can no longer afford to live, large numbers of houses are owned by South East workers as holiday homes and the town is mostly empty in the winter months? If this is the case, it must be asked how that actually benefits Swansea as a whole, as there will be no community, no residents to spend money in local businesses, no one to enjoy the unique local arts scene. Both economically and socially, it could be devastating, all sadly the cost of quick profit for very small number of private individuals as the owners of these companies.
Perception of housing Swansea
All of this makes us consider what are the perceptions of Swansea (as of many towns and cities across the UK), in relation to the housing within it? What will happen to the cost of housing for the long and short-term residents and those wishing to live there? Will it become an enclave of wealth where people have no hope of enjoying the many wonderful aspects of the area, its people, its culture, unless they earn a high 5 figure sum or higher? Will it become a ghost town outside of tourist seasons? With all of this said, will this be an acceptable view to people, where £1000 rents and £500,000 homes eventually become normalised, even though wages and job opportunities are not rising to reflect that?
If the proclaimed objectives of those with significant control over these situations (e.g. political parties) have true intentions of upward mobility for all and shared prosperity, it seems to be clear this is not the way it is achieved, but instead causes a race to the bottom with homes and wealth in the hands of the few who are already financially and social stable. This is the fundamental focus of the work of South Wales Equality Group, to highlight the impact of socio-economic inequalities that this article illustrates.