Monday, 2 January 2012

My Advice? Don't Grow Old

Recently, I was contacted anonymously by a tenant in their early sixties, desperate to share the horrendous housing problems they are battling. They work for low, or (when work dries up) no income. Reasons too complicated to explain here compel them to accept the reality of working beyond retirement age. They do not own property so must rent a home, and they asked for my advice.

Apart from a debilitating background of persistent poverty, their main problem is caused by one simple over-riding fact: they can’t find anywhere to live. Their landlord is selling their current place and they are now worried about the cost of living alone (they might lose work, and approaching cuts in Housing Benefit mean they will be unable to afford somewhere safe, insulated and close to their remaining social contacts, and family live abroad.)

So why not share a flat, says you. Why not indeed, but it’s not for want of trying. They’ve been looking for months – using all the usual property search sites, even signed up with agencies, albeit reluctantly as they are trying to save money. They’ve placed ads online, while responding swiftly to any flat-share ads within their budget.

But low or ‘reasonably’ priced flats are sought after, and desirable tenants are never older – even less so when they are struggling in insecure employment. Flats go to younger tenants, who must seem more attractive – not like the ‘flat-blocker’ who contacted me. Yes that’s offensive terminology but you can see what the letting agents are thinking: they deal with cruel and inaccurate stereotypes, and see only an aging tenant with impending health needs, including dementia potentially messing up their portfolio.

As for the older and impecunious prospective renter - how do they find a guarantor? Seriously: do they ask their parents (who in any case are long dead.) You think that’s ridiculous? An especially witless letting-agent nonchalantly requested such a guarantee.

This person seems engaged with the world, is erudite, educated, and judging from their message possessing a keen sense of humour. They socialise, enjoy ‘modern’ music, and are healthy. How do you explain this when they arrive and are visibly in their sixties, when all other applicants are in the twenties and thirties?

They are not ready for sheltered housing – neither do they need it. What they require is a home, a comfortable, secure, affordable home, where they can stay a while (having as much as forty years ahead of them still.) They might move across into a care home eventually, but what they need right now is the same as everyone else - a place to live.

I don’t believe they are unique. I think that there must be other people out there: older people in urgent need of flatmates their age, and/or affordable housing, not a grim, lonely garret in distant bedsitland (which is what they’ve been offered so far.)

This might happen to us all eventually, and it’s chilling. I had no idea what to suggest, so my advice is: never grow old. Any better suggestions? Anyone? Hell-ooo?


MattW said...

Surely their Local Authority must be able to come up with a solution?

I would have thought that these would be a high priority for general needs council housing.

RenterGirl said...

You'd think. I don't have all the facts to hand in this case, but might I add: what council housing? Even with a high priority, lists are very long. So let's build some more. Oh, yeah - right: the Condems rely on the PRS. And around we go...

Chris B said...

And even if the couple in their sixties were to apply as homeless and be accepted as being owed the full housing duty they'd only get the one offer which might well be in a sheltered housing block (regardless of their views about them not wanting to accept this type of place). Older people wanting to stay longer in their own homes, changing demographics, etc mean that many local authorities will have a need to fill this kind of accommodation. Some have reduced qualifying ages for sheltered housing down to 55.

While some of these places are perfectly OK and one can choose to have nothing to do with the other residents if that is what one prefers, I can understand why they would not be to every older person's taste.

I can't see me ever wanting to live in such a place when I finally descend into cantankerous old bastardom. Although I do quite fancy the idea of living in one of those big silvery caravans out in the desert like in Kill Bill. The downside would, of course, be dying alone and being eaten by coyotes.

RenterGirl said...

That's just it: sheltered housing for people who need it. And sheltered housing often has limitations and even rules, like smaller rooms, space for a single bed only, and organised communal fun and games under the watchful eye of a warden: the idea of enforced bingo and sing-alongs make that coyote seem like a welcome visitor.

RenterGirl said...

'Should have made plans while they were young.' What a stupid comment. Life happens. Fortunes change, ie illness - death. Businesses fail. When you are in that position, maybe those words will haunt you. Keep your trolling off my blog.