Social Rental Agencies can play an essential role in tackling energy poverty in the PRS

By Maria Figueira, UIPI 

Many countries in Europe face high pressure on their social housing stock, as the demand keeps increasing. An alternative to social housing can be the Private Rented Sector (PRS), as it can be a way to provide affordable housing and to tackle energy poverty, through initiatives like Social Rental Agencies (SRA). 

SRAs are non-profit housing organisations devoted to providing housing solutions for low-income tenants and homeless people. They act as key intermediaries between property owners and people needing housing, by offering a structural answer for the current housing crisis. Thus, they could be considered as a model for attending housing needs of the most vulnerable in the PRS, where other initiatives, such as rent control or massive tax exemptions, have shown not to work as well. 

Its functioning is based on looking for property owners, willing to rent their properties at a reduced price to households in difficulty, previously selected by the SRA. In exchange, the SRAs provide these property owners with some guarantees, namely regarding rent payment and property maintenance agreements, but not exclusively. Other agreements can be also based on renovations and tax advantages. 

SRAs select the tenants and then accompany the entire process as guarantors of the letting, supporting them, and taking care of all administrative and management assignments. They are able to set rent prices below the market rate because the landlord’s income is secured at long-term, thanks to their intermediation. This increases the number and the quality of the houses available for vulnerable people, alleviating pressure on the social housing stock. 

Among other advantages, SRAs are a good model because they consider tenants in affordable housing need, but also the property owners as an essential part of the solution to the challenge of energy poverty in the PRS. Indeed, this problem cannot be addressed without involving all concerned parties. These organisations address the needs of both groups of stakeholders in a quick, secure, and effective way. The adopted holistic approach can even foster buildings renovation and mobilise inactive stock in the market, as it brings together the demand and the supply side in the housing sector. 

Nevertheless, it is also important to consider the difficulties that SRAs may find when looking for interested landlords, managing the number of applications and stabilising the criteria to choose tenants. Policy makers should provide them with the necessary instruments to deal with these challenges from the beginning, as SRAs are a great model of rental intermediation, but they require sufficient public investment and regulation in order to stablish and expand themselves as an effective solution.