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A Magazine for Sheffield

13,000 on the waiting list: We explore the scale of Sheffield's housing crisis

Ahead of the general election, homelessness charity Shelter have published a manifesto with policies that they say could guarantee a safe, warm, accessible and affordable home for everyone.

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In December 2023, 672 households in Sheffield were living in temporary accommodation.

Mark Stuckey on Unsplash.

Britain has a serious housing problem. From the 1950s up until the late 1970s, the state was seen as the main provider of housing – over 200,000 new social homes were built every year in the mid-1950s. For a long period after the Second World War, the state provided an ever-increasing share of housing stock – at its high point in 1979, 42% of people in Britain lived in a social home, compared to just 8% in 2016.

It was widely assumed across the political spectrum that the state would eventually take on almost all housing provision. This was in accordance with the widespread view that housing was a basic human need, but also recognised that within living memory were the disastrous consequences of the last time that housing had been left to the free market in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which saw industrial cities like Sheffield filled with slums.


North London Shelter campaigner Krystalrose.


But since the advent of neoliberalism in the late 1970s, housing has once again been largely left to the market, with disastrous consequences. Private enterprise has categorically failed to provide enough decent-quality homes that people can afford. At the same time, thanks to the Right to Buy policy, more social homes have been sold off or demolished than have actually been built almost every single year since 1981.

Shelter, the anti-homelessness campaign that have a major base in Sheffield, want to reverse this trend. They’ve published a major new manifesto ahead of the general election, which was partly written by the team in Sheffield. It contains four main demands:

  • Build a new generation of social rented homes
  • Make private renting affordable
  • Raise the standard of rented homes
  • Improve housing rights and help to enforce them

Ahead of the vote on 4 July, we’ve mapped out the scale of the housing crisis in Sheffield through the lens of Shelter’s four demands, and using data provided by their local office.

Build a new generation of social rented homes

Sheffield has a population of around 556,500.

The city currently has around 245,000 homes, and Shelter estimate we will need an additional 2,200 homes per year over the next 15 years to match an expected rise in population.

But the council’s current plan is to build or acquire just 202 new social homes per year over the next five years. Shelter estimate we need to build around 900 affordable homes per year to compensate for a deficit in the private housebuilding sector.

We also have an eye-watering 13,662 households in the city on the social home waiting list in 2023 – a direct and tragic consequence of the Thatcher’s government’s Right to Buy policy, as well as the failure of successive governments since to build enough new social housing.

Just in the year 2021-22, Sheffield lost 408 social rented homes through Right to Buy and demolition.

This has led to homelessness rocketing in the city – in December 2023, 672 households in the city were living in temporary accommodation, including 422 children.

But building the number of new homes we evidently need becomes an even knottier problem when you take into account our city’s carbon budgets.


Stephen Tyler, one of Shelter's clients who successfully proved 'no DSS' is discriminatory.


Research by Dark Matter Labs and the Laudes Foundation has found that to stay within our carbon budget – the amount of carbon we can use while sticking to a 1.5C global temperature rise – we can only build 176,000 brand-new homes a year across the whole of Europe.

That translates to 129 new homes in Sheffield a year – which falls well short of what is required.

The only way we can meet the city’s housing needs while not exceeding planetary boundaries – in other words, staying within ‘the doughnut’ – is a massively ambitious programme of retrofit: bringing the city’s underused and unneeded factories and offices back into use as high-quality homes.

Not only would this help address the dire need for new housing without breaching the planet’s life support systems, it could also create thousands of new highly-skilled jobs for young people in the city. Some have even suggested that Sheffield could be the UK’s first “Centre for Retrofitting Excellence”.

At a national level, Shelter say that we need to build 90,000 genuinely affordable social homes a year over the next ten years to end the housing emergency for good.

Make private renting affordable

With the stock of social housing being steadily depleted every year, more and more people have been forced into the private rented sector, where rents have skyrocketed.

Renters are routinely pitted against each other as they compete for a limited supply of too often shoddy and overpriced homes. Just some of the increasingly unreasonable demands from landlords include eye-watering sums of rent up front, guarantors with excessive conditions and the continuation of unlawful ‘no benefits’ bans. 

With a general election only weeks away, Shelter want all parties to make ironclad commitments that if in power they will make renting safer, more secure and affordable.

Private rents in Yorkshire and Humber increased by 7.3% on average in the year up to April 2024 – well above inflation.

Shelter are calling for the government to bring forward long-delayed legislation to end no-fault evictions, which are routinely used by unscrupulous landlords to evict people solely so they can then re-let the home to someone else who might pay more rent.

Alongside abolishing Section 21 no-fault evictions, Shelter are calling for political parties to make private renting more stable and affordable. This means regulating in-tenancy rent increases – something that is commonplace across Europe and would protect tenants from being forced out of their homes by an unexpected rent hike.

Raise the standard of rented homes

The quality of many rented homes in the private sector is dire.

Shelter say that 35% of all private rented homes in Sheffield were classed as ‘non-decent’ as of 2021-22 – that equates to 15,000 homes across the city.

In Sheffield, the council have made some attempts to address the dire quality of the city’s private rented sector, but due to government restrictions that are designed to benefit landlords, these schemes had to be targeted rather than city-wide.

Between 2018 and 2023, private landlords around London Road, Abbeydale Road and Chesterfield Road had to apply for a license to let out property, with a need to prove that the homes they were providing were safe and of sufficient quality.

This came after a series of inspections which found that rented homes in the area were even worse than the region’s average, with a council report noting “serious issues of disrepair, dangerous living conditions and poor management”.

Shelter are calling on the next government to invest in, and give stronger powers to, housing standards enforcement teams across the UK, allowing them to take action to improve the quality of private rented homes in their area.

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Much of the new student accommodation built in Sheffield will be difficult to convert into other forms of housing.

Mark Stuckey on Unsplash.

They also want to see the government invest in renewing existing social homes, bringing up standards in the social rented sector as well. Some campaigners, including tenants’ union ACORN, want to see “city-wide landlord licensing”, where all landlords in the private sector would need to prove that the homes they let out are fit for purpose.

Improve housing rights and help to enforce them

Private renters find themselves at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to legislation and regulation in the UK.

This is not surprising given the power of the landlord lobbying industry, and the fact that as of 2021 a quarter of Tory MPs were themselves landlords. Earlier this year, the Guardian revealed that almost a third of Tory MPs who voted to water down a tenants’ protection bill were landlords.

The current government have long promised to end no-fault (or Section 21) evictions, but in April, before calling the election, announced an indefinite delay on the plans, citing the need to reform the courts first.

Section 21 evictions are a key driver of homelessness in the UK. Research by Shelter found that 84,460 private renters had claimed homelessness support after being given a Section 21 notice since the Tories promised to outlaw the practice in 2019.

In their manifesto, Shelter want the government to establish a legal right to to suitable emergency accommodation and adequate support for anyone at risk of street homelessness. They also want to restore legal aid for help with housing problems, such as dangerous states of disrepair, and invest in proper support services to prevent homelessness.

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