Monday, 10 January 2011

Too Old For Renting?

I can’t quite believe it, but the con/dems have decreed that anyone under the age of thirty-five and renting a home must share – or rather that they will only be allowed LHA to cover the cost of the shared property.

Having watched the student protests, I am wondering why people aren’t more angry. I am aware that anyone who has swallowed the hate campaign (benefit claimant now being synonymous with benefit scrounger to many) must imagine they are immune. Once again, those on the housing high-ground should remember: there but for fate go we all, as in this economic climate, anyone can end up signing on – even for a while.

One of the main groups liable to be affected – even devastated - by this are already angry. It’s divorced dads – you know, sometimes they express their thoughts dangling on the end of bungee ropes dressed as superheroes. Job loss, marital breakdown and homelessness are the three horseman of the social apocalypse: they often arrive together. Fathers usually vacate the family home after marital breakdown, and will – if they are under thirty-five - be forced to share a house with no space for their children to sleep when they visit.

There aren’t enough decent houses large enough for people to share, and nobody seems to be asking what people want and need from a home. Developers veer from one orthodoxy to the next: first building vast suburban Bantustans of Wimpeyvilles, or then covering inner cities with ‘luxury’ one bed flats. When a flat has two bedrooms, the other occupant is likely to be the owner, and claimants are low on the list of desirable lodgers.

I’ve written previously about how miserable it can be to be compelled to share a flat, and charities like MIND and Shelter have also raised their concerns about the effects on infantilising adults and also on mental health problems, but nobody seems to listen.

The bill for Housing Benefit has rocketed, spiralled and sped hyperbolically out of control, but whose fault is that? Encouraging speculation, persuading owners to ramp up weekly rents, gibbering with satisfaction at escalating property values oblivious to the human cost, and then (and then!) blaming the innocent, powerless victims of this farce is now normal.

If claimants must share a house, why not force developers to build proper homes, so that there are houses spacious enough for several singletons to have some privacy (The Right To a Private Life being enshrined in law and all that…) And if those in power are so keen to save money on housing benefit, why not bring back rent officers empowered to enforce fair rents, or compel anyone living alone in a country (or urban) mansion to rent out rooms to lodgers and then see how they enjoy sharing.

It’s not like single claimants are holed up in massive country houses: they just want a small flat (technically they can’t even claim for a bedsit). Adjusting house price inflation by penalising those who cannot fight back is cowardly and pointless. But I don’t see anyone rioting about it.


manfromthefuture said...

there is an increasing undercurrent of coercion to force everyone into shared accommodation. not just renters, but also people who currently live alone are under pressure from a shifting council tax regime towards penalising those who do not fully occupy their properties. currently, council tax has a one person discount. but i predict this will be inverted so that one person living alone will pay more than a house full of people.

i think the student riots are the first sign of active discontent from young people against the way things are. i dont think the issue of tuition fees is the whole reason, only part of it. increasingly the younger demographic are waking up to the possibility of perpetual insolvency and that this is no social accident, but the product of a system that squeezes the last pips out of everyone.

my theory is that property prices will never come back down within reach of young peoples' salary who are being forced to rent from landlords who, in turn, wind up handing over more tax.

the root of this problem is that jobs dont pay enough. if you look at salaries in real terms over the last two decades, they have dropped. this was the lie of globalisation; the idea that you'd better work harder for no extra cash to guard against outsourcing. outsourcing never worked.

space cadet said...

So well written. Again. Thank you. This is a SCANDAL and I could cry with despair. I'm resigned to sharing a house, still. And i'm 38. I imagine those in power think that's all my own fault.

Wayne Kasper said...

Hi - glad to see this excellent blog is still active.

I take it you live in Manchester? I moved here not to long ago, and I have to say I'm appalled by the housing situation here. I know people - no matter their age, parental status, employed or not - who are trapped living like first year students. All of them are subject to BTL landlords (often resident in the same property - the crazed dash to OWN means they end up stuffing every room with people to be on the 'ladder'). My own place is substandard by too many criteria, and I haven't exactly been living 'the life of riley' before it. I was appalled to find out that there are even working families living in this block of damp studio flats.

Even worse, the inequality gap is surprisingly stark compared to Liverpool. I was particularly shocked by outright hostility to the unemployed and low-paid from people who assume they're 'liberal' (maybe on race or sexuality, but definitely not class). They basically refuse to listen to the actual experiences of myself and others in the same situation, preferring to parrot this week's tabloid nonsense.

I know I'm being anecdotal, but the idiot you deleted above is sadly symptomatic of a wider bigotry. Especially that crap about how the unemployed 'get everything paid for' and how women somehow 'choose' the toil and financial hardship of parenthood as some 'career option'. I'm afraid my experiences here have made me much more hostile to the 'comfortable' than ever before. I've had a lot of financial difficulty lately, and its striking how many view this as some 'moral' failing on my part. To mention the workings of economics and society is likely to get shut down as 'depressing'. Maybe I've mixed in the wrong circles, but I really thought a city like this would know better. The poorer people I know either have no money or time (if they still have a job) left, so they/I get a whole lot of social isolation thrown upon our woes too.

Ok that was a bit of a rant, but some idiots (like that anonymous commentator you sometimes get) make my blood boil. Hope you keep this blog up. The UK needs more 'voices' like yours to challenge the wall-to-wall LIES surrounding us. Housing is a perpetual crisis situation for far too many people. The ignorant and complacent can't be reminded of this enough.

Wayne Kasper said...

Sorry I meant the commentator from previous posts - not the somewhat wiser commentators above!

Neil80 said...

I'd be seriously unhappy about being made to house or flatshare, the people proposing this policy either don't care at all or have happy memories of sharing with other oxbridge undergrads.

The reality is that it very, very rarely works, and even if it does most people want out of it by their mid 20s.

I'd be seriously depressed if I ever had to go back to housesharing now.

Neil80 said...

I'd be seriously unhappy about being made to house or flatshare, the people proposing this policy either don't care at all or have happy memories of sharing with other oxbridge undergrads.

The reality is that it very, very rarely works, and even if it does most people want out of it by their mid 20s.

I'd be seriously depressed if I ever had to go back to housesharing now.

RenterGirl said...

I thought long and hard about publishing the comment below. What an idiotic arsehole he/she is. I wish I could say it better, but that's the the short version of what I would say.

W. Kasper said...

1) Allowing too much immigration.

2) Paying too much housing benefit.

3) Keeping interest rates too low.

The Three Big Lies of Right-wing mythology, pumped into tiny brains every day by the tabloid press.

When times were less desperate, I'd waste time constructing arguments against morons like 'Nationalist'. But in austerity Britain, all I have left to say is: Fuck off you arsehole.

Anonymous said...

I'm disappointed that so many of these comments stigmatise flatsharing.

Families and couples split up more often nowadays, there are more and more single people than there's ever been. The house building industry have responded to that by building one bedroom flats. But is making people more isolated really a good thing for an individual's mental health or for society? I certainly dont accept (as you argue) that a recently separated father is better off on his own in a small flat than he would be with friends, or strangers who can become friends, in a decent flatshare.

Then there's the environmental impact of more and more people living on their own. A quarter of all UK carbon emissions come from heating homes - therefore one of the biggest carbon saving steps we can take is to live with other people.

Society's changing - lets embrace that by ensuring people can live together more flexibly through their lives: sometimes with lovers, sometimes with friends and family, and yes sometimes with strangers. Isolation isn't the way forward.

David (only anonymous cos I havent time to register) (my personal situation: working, paying a mortgage, sharing with a friend/lodger)

RenterGirl said...

David - you are right. There is nothing wrong with sharing - if it suits an individual. I just find it strange that everywhere else, 'choice' is mantra. In fact choice is obligatory. So why are people being herded together?

Shoe said...

Its terrible to be forced to share a rental, especially if you are over a "certain age." Only today I got an apology from a friend who was criticising me moving back with my parents and staying there. (I'm 38, after being laid off last year, I could only get contract work, which expires in June, so I can't rent, because I would be restrictied to the 5% or less of the market which would be my only option - if I get unemployment, which I may not, as a then to be self-employed contractor).

Its interesting to see the sea change that comes over people once they get up on the property ladder and expect others to do the things they'd never do - live miles out, share, do without parking. You're right that the right wing media feeds the frenzy. Over here the lot of tenants is being ignored in favour of owner occupiers in neg equity with arrears. Its terrible but they get 12 months protection. If you're a tenant you've none.

Keep up the good work and don't mind ar**holes like "Anonymous" who clearly believe the Daily M*** bull.

Anonymous said...

Shoe and Rentergirl -

Shoe - I didnt make any sort of daily mail argument. I'm just saying we as a country cant afford - in cash or environmental or mental health terms - for the rapidly growing numbers of single people to all live alone in one-bed flats.

That doesnt just go for tenants on benefits, lots of people on the property ladder(like me) cant afford to live alone either. I think having our choice restricted like that is bettter than a situation where we all increasingly regard it as normal to live in isolation.


PS Shoe, thanks for calling me an "arsehole" - nice.....

space cadet said...

I wonder, if David owns the home that he's sharing. He says "lodger2 after all. That's exactly the point, as far as i'm concerned. Somebody else's house, somebody else's rules. When you share, it's always others telling you - explicitly, or implicitly - how to live. Their house, their ways.. oh, their everything !

Sure, you can compromise, if you know it's not FOREVER !! And if you haven't done enough houseshares to make you want to kill yourself at the thought of another one.

You know what i love? You pay all that money, month after month, and what does your average houseshare promise you? Nothing really, let's face it. You're going on goodwill, and sod all else.

fatbob said...

Hmm housesharing, there's a thing. Having houseshared from the age of 20 to 36, I've got a fair amount of experience of this. At first it was out of sheer necessity, my wages as an apprentice just would not support either buying or renting my own flat or house. Later on, I made the decision that if I were to ever afford to buy a place of my own, I would have to continue to houseshare in order to put away enough money for a deposit.
I've houseshared in some truly lovely houses, and some truly awful ones.
Memorable is the housemate that was happy to blow £50 a month on Sky sports but refused to allow anything but the minimal level of heating and hot water as it costed too much. Or the housemate that stole the household kitty for the bills and council tax. Or the housemate who used to roll in pissed at midnight, try to cook, set off the smoke alarms and would square up to you for daring to ask that he showed some consideration to his fellow housemates.
On the flip side, I've made some very good friends from housesharing - the generous chef who used to bring me a Sunday lunch goodie bag from his restaurant every week was a highlight.
I guess housesharing isn't for everyone, and I probably wouldn't willingly go back to it now after becoming accustomed to the privilege of having my own place. However, the crux for me is to ask who's paying for your accommodation ? If the money is from the government in the form of welfare, then beggars can't be choosers. There seems to be such a sense of entitlement these days. I grew up to be independent and to stand on my own two feet.
Should the worst ever happen, I would happily accept any form of help until I was able to pull myself out of the situation. I don't think I'd be complaining about having to houseshare again, I'd be just glad to have a roof over my head.


Anonymous said...

It's interesting to see that you mentioned the mental health aspects of flat sharing. I've been driven to the edge a number of times living in shared accommodation.

Anonymous said...

Bring back bedsits and boarding houses? It's cruel to force people to share accommodation. (However, I thought you were going to talk about the way people expect you to get a place of your own, and after 35 you no longer have the companionship of flatmates. You are expected to couple up. If you don't, you're supposed to be socially isolated and like it. Life's a bitch!)

Anonymous said...

Hope this blog hasn't ceased altogether. It's one of the few places where the tale is told of those of us who are stuck, seemingly forever, in tented accomodation. Sometimes I feel as if it's just me.

Dazzla said...

Thought you might be interested I'm this. If possible, please try to get it under the right modes.

And please, *please* start posting again.

Samantha said...

I love this blog - I've really missed you over the last 6 months.

You haven't managed to join the ranks of home owners have you?

I was really hoping for some comment after Channel 4's recent Dispatches on "Landlords from Hell"

Christopher said...

Her last blogpost was in January 2011.

I assume that rentergirl must have finally become an owner-occupier ? But there's nowt wrong with that, I suppose

vionolo said...

Renter girl,

I agree with Dazzla and Samantha! It has been far too long and I would love to hear your take on the dispatches programme.

Anonymous said...

I work and live in shared accomidation!

Why should individuals who don't work get better than I can afford!

RenterGirl said...

Living in reasonable decent housing should be affordable for everyone, both in work and out.

Paul said...

'Living in reasonable decent housing should be affordable for everyone, both in work and out.'

Couldn't have put it better myself.

'It's one of the few places where the tale is told of those of us who are stuck, seemingly forever, in tented accomodation.'

I assume that's a spelling mistake, but I fear it will be reality before long . . .