Last week, I moved into a new flat in London. I love it and feel lucky to be able to rent a place that ticks so many boxes, from its location to its comfortable size. I can’t wait to start my “post lockdown life”.
But as I unpacked, and looked at all the heavy furniture I’d carted up the stairs, along with my huge to-do list of administrative tasks, I confess I also thought “I can’t do this again”. That is, move flat (although I won’t have any choice!).
It’s a feeling that so many people have experienced – and not just the young and youngish (I’m 32) – because their housing situation has no permanence. Life is a series of moves with no end date, along with tens of thousands of pounds spent on rent.
Sometimes renters are having to tolerate terrible conditions. Yesterday, for instance, ITV published an investigation into people living in damp and mould-infested council housing. There’s also the news that an estimated 700,000 renters have been served with “no-fault” eviction notices since the start of the pandemic. These are awful events, yet I have to say that nothing surprises me any more.
'Why are we being forgotten?': The tenants living in mould-infested flats https://t.co/qUjzMha77W
— ITV News (@itvnews) April 13, 2021
Indeed, during my flat hunt I stumbled on some real horrors, which estate agents had insultingly claimed to be fantastic. There was the flat with a shower in the bedroom, and one with the kitchen pretty much next to the bed. Take your pick!
£995 pcm in London.
"A stunning studio apartment…Exceptionally presented with an open plan living area, bright and spacious double bedroom" pic.twitter.com/5DOaRcloC8
— Charlotte Gill (@CharlotteCGill) March 3, 2021
The most common escape from renting is parents who can help with a house deposit. But why should you need Mum and Dad to come to the rescue in “meritocratic” Britain? And what about those who don’t have that option?
The Government needs to wake up and do something about the situation, not least because it has introduced policies that have implications for housing demand, such as scrapping the net migration target.
Similarly, it was the UK’s moral obligation to offer citizenship to up to three million Hong Kong residents. We should welcome them as much as possible. But part of that welcoming process has to include thinking about where they’ll live. I have seen few, if any MPs, discuss how they will accommodate a growing population.
Robert Jenrick, to his credit, has been working hard to get planning applications through for housing – as my colleague Henry Hill has written for ConservativeHome. This is fantastic news, and I have no doubt he realises the seriousness of the problem.
But I also get the sense that many MPs just think “well, it doesn’t affect me, so I’ll think about it later” when they hear another complaint from Generation Rent.
Recently, I watched one MP make a passionate plea in parliament about why we need to protect the green belt. Fair enough, but it would be nice if someone could get as animated about the hundreds of thousands of people nowhere near home ownership. How are people supposed to start a family? Or save? Or cope with taxes going up?
I imagine one reason MPs don’t move on this issue with the same urgency they apply to say, climate change, is because they earn just over £80,000 per year. It takes you out of the most competitive parts of the market, and many also do not live in the South East, where demand is especially high (because so many jobs are there).
Some of the current problems will be fixed by the working from home revolution. It means people can now move out into areas with better housing supply. The Government is also moving the Treasury to Darlington and “levelling up” the North. These are all fantastic steps, as a lot of the issues are to do with an imbalance in supply and demand for properties across the country.
But we seem to have stalled on other matters. There was the Government’s housing algorithm, which was meant to increase the supply of properties. Even if this had been allowed to go ahead, it would have resulted in 300,000-a-year level by the middle of the decade – no way near enough to make Generation Rent “Generation Homeowner” instead.
Another issue, of course, is NIMBYs, who have too much power over housing. Recently locals managed to block a £1 billion Kensington hotel and housing complex. I don’t know the intricacies of why it was stopped, but it’s hardly the first time this has happened. It’s hard not to stereotype these people. Are they the types that sing the praises of free movement under the EU – while stopping any efforts to accommodate a growing population?
I’ve never really wanted to write about or research housing. I have no idea what a good planning policy would be. I’m just someone who thought as a child they would grow up and live in a nice house. I feel lied to in a way, as I expect many other people my age do, when we were told that “hard work pays off” at school. Actually, it just goes towards landlords.
Frankly, no one seems to be taking the issue seriously enough. It’s called a housing “crisis” for a reason. Renters need to channel their “inner Greta Thunberg” to get the issue prioritised. Our futures have been “stolen”, after all, by the inability of policymakers, including Labour, to think about where we’ll all live. A Conservative promise to “Get Housing Done” can’t come soon enough.