Why buy-to-let investors should see the market potential in wheelchair accessible homes
October 17, 2017
By Eleanor Bowden, CEO of Abode Impact
David Toplas and I set up Abode Impact (previously named Community Sponsors Homes) because we are concerned by the housing-led inequality between wheelchair users and non-disabled people.
The UK housing market has failed to provide wheelchair accessible homes. There are almost none available to rent, and wheelchair users are an unserved customer base in the private housing market.
As a result, wheelchair users often have to live in inaccessible homes, where they face unreasonable strains. They may, for example, be limited to one or two rooms of the house. This prevents them leading independent lives.
Why does this happen?
There are 1.2 million wheelchair users in the UK today (NHS), a number set to rise given the UK’s ageing population.
There simply aren’t enough wheelchair accessible homes. Wheelchair users are not able to visit over half of UK homes built before 1919 and only 1.2 million homes are visitable by a whelechair user (English Housing Survey). Nowhere near that many are habitable by a wheelchair user.
Against that backdrop, UK rental homes are typically owned by individual landlords. This is largely down to the rise of the buy-to-let mortgage in the 90s. These landlords, who mostly own a handful of properties each, don’t have an overall picture of what the UK needs for rental properties, and don’t know that wheelchair users are an unserved market. The result is there are very few wheelchair accessible homes to rent on the open market.
The UK is becoming a nation of renters, which leaves wheelchair users, who are part of Generation Rent, stuck with few options. By 2040, 1/3 of 60 year olds will be renting privately (Centre for Housing Policy, York University).
Ultimately, this can be remedied through capital: Purchase wheelchair accessible homes with investment and rent them on the open market. This creates a return on investment for investors, as well as providing choice for the wheelchair users. There is an inherent social benefit when wheelchair users move independently round their own home and lead independent lives.
Buy-to-let owners, we anticipate, will follow once they can see the proven investment case, i.e. the untapped market that currently exists. In 20 years’ we could finally be talking about solving this crisis. It’s when a product offers a social (as well as financial) return that you know you’re onto a winner.
When the market works to improve people’s lives everyone wins. Simple.