Monday, 20 May 2013

Extremely Bad In London

How do people live in London? How do they afford it, let alone tolerate the conditions? More to the point, how do claimants find a place, and what do they do when they can’t? I lived there a long time ago, and had trouble with finding not just a home I could afford, but a place close to work, and friends. I found it daunting at first, and then impossible, so I left.

Nowadays, it’s worse. Poorer tenants go to extraordinary lengths to pay ridiculously inflated rents, enduring insecurity and cramped spaces, taking several jobs in different travel zones, which is costly and time-consuming.

It’s this bad – this is how people manage to survive, desperate to stay in London and the south as that’s where the jobs are. There are extremes, like temporary-into-permanent sofa-surfing. Or sleeping in parks or bus stations - even on the night bus when things go badly wrong. All of these examples are real and happened to friends, acquaintances or correspondents.

One friend stayed in a converted garage. I say converted – I mean there was a bed and shelves. It was cold, and what was intended to be an emergency measure lasted for almost one year, with her belongings damp and infested with mice. Lovely. But better than the streets.

Another slept surreptitiously in their work studio, which was cheaper than hostels. But he lived in a constant state of anxiety, afraid of being discovered.

Others sleep in kitchens and walk-in cupboards, even to the extent they are sublet and actual rent is paid – for living in a cupboard.

Some live in rooms divided with temporary cardboard partitions, scared that the owner or agent will visit and evict them.

Then there’s two people sharing a bed when on shift work – one during the day, the other at night. I don’t have to explain why this is infantilising, demeaning and dehumanising, do I?

Some stay with partners, returning home to parents at weekends. Doesn’t sound that bad, but it’s the sense of transience – of living like a child under precarious security, of having no refuge, which is what a home should be.

I’ve heard of people working in London, but keeping their home at the other of the country and commuting back, which is exhausting and destroys relationships.

Then there’s sharing bed all the time, when not in a couple. Imagine no privacy or your own space, at first convincing yourself that this it’s short-term ‘…just until we’ve saved enough to buy,’ or even – and this is shocking – saving enough for the deposit required to rent.

Try living in an HMO (house in multiple occupation) full of couples, all too poor for one-bed flats, using one tiny kitchen with a punitive roster for cooking time and the bathroom, where the lounge is used as another bedroom.

Worse perhaps is a combination of all the above, with possessions stored in lockers at coach stations and storage centres.

This happens. Moving to London seems like a great adventure, and these measures might seem exciting, but when they go on for months – even years, it’s not living, it’s existing. The answer is rent controls and more building. And better pay. And…


space cadet said...

... and making it easier to buy land, so that people can build their own homes, off grid if they bloody want to.

I left London, when I realised that my cost of living just kept going up, whilst my quality of life was just going down!

Check out this blog from NYC. I've been very tempted to start something similar.

In the meantime, I have started collecting pictures of all those photoshopped bathrooms and kitchens.

Matt W(ardman) said...

That's a fabulous Tumblr, apart from the fact that he doesn't link to any sources. I want to know:

a - Are these lettings or unapproved sublettings - ie is it LLs or Ts profiteering.
b - Which are these apartments are rent-controlled.
c - What this says about heavy rent-regulation as a way of improving rental quality or encouraging building of homes.

New York is about 65% rent-controlled, and has been for 50 years+. It clearly doesn't work.

A similar project for London would be a good idea.

space cadet said...

Fact is, landlords in NYC (or God knows where they actually live) think it acceptable for people to live like that, in those conditions, and charge money for it. Just as is happening in London. Tenants sublet because they're desperate; being charged extortionate rents for shit holes like this, so they are desperate to recoup money on when it's empty. And tenants accept sublets because they're desperate, finding homes between homes, to fill in the gaps. And so the spiral of despair goes on. While the LL sits back, quietly not giving a fuck.

Let's learn from other countries, certainly, and see what can be done better. If the chorus of LLs listening to their own voices and crying petulantly "But that won't work here" can shut up first.

Penny Anderson said...

Seen that blog and apparently it's real. I expect there's a UK version somewhere. London is impossible.

Mia Grant said...

Having lived up North for the past 5 years, I've been shocked at the prices in London. I've just been offered a new job that dictates I have to live within certain areas and I can't afford any more than £600pcm. I wanted to rent a 1 bed flat but can't afford it. I've been looking at shared houses but this would have to be with strangers. Having significant issues finding a place where my boyfriend (who lives in Cardiff) would be able to stay for the odd weekend. Recently viewed a room advertised as looking for a professional tenant aged 25+ where I could stand in the centre of the room and touch both walls (I'm 5 foot 4).

Despite the job being a great opportunity for me to get into a field I want to have a career in, I think I might have to turn it down.

RenterGirl said...

I know Mia - London is unliveable for all but the wealthy.

Shoe said...

Oh I've done this. It was horrendous. If you want to live in London, you either need to have your own home which you purchased prior to 1990, or else be filthy rich.

The worst was living in hostels though. Not "homeless" ones but semi unofficial ones that were supposed to be tourist hostels but not really. There was about 12 of us in 2 or 3 rooms. Mixed. Horrible. The worst thing was the drug abuse and the unpredictable temper of the bullyboy owner.

A lot of the guys were living there longer term, it was nearly all people on lower paid jobs, some of them government. Its a phase of my life I'd willingly be lobotomised to forget.

RenterGirl said...

People stay far too long in this temporary solutions.

MattW said...

Spare a thought for this lady, evicted from East Ham and moved to a temporary hotel in Birmingham. Her 6 yr old daughter had to leave the school she was settled at (and her friends too).

Councils now have the autonomy to build their own housing. Shame these new homes aren't going up quick enough to quench demand. Plenty of brownfield sites that could be built on - and disused offices that could be converted.

RenterGirl said...

Someone tweeted this post, and many have taken it as an insult. Not sure why, but I hope you are surviving and enjoying London, unlike the people who contacted me with these stories.

Anonymous said...

I don't know where you guys are househunting in London but it must be some pretty bad searching. Because I disagree totally. Is london much more expensive than anywhere else in the UK? Absolutely. But it's not stupidly expensive.

I'll aim this at Mia, because she actually posted details of her situation. I've found decent sized double bedrooms for £600pcm in zone 1 kings cross! If you move out to zone 2, which is where a lot of commuters live and easily get to work in <40 minutes, you can definitely find some decent places for £600pcm.

Are you going to find a 1bed flat for yourself? No. But welcome to London. Living with strangers is definitely necessary to live alone on a budget, but what's wrong with that? I've lived with a new set of strangers every year for the last 4 years. Some of them have turned into close lifelong friends. The worst was a year when they all just treated the place as a place to sleep which means that I never made any friends.

Trouble finding a place where your boyfriend can stay? I've never rented a room where I can't have a friend stay over the odd weekend.

Try - this is where I always find a place to rent if I'm looking alone, they have some decent rooms on a budget if you pick carefully (a zone 2 room near a tube station that's on the same line as the station nearest to your workplace). Good luck

Sascha Alexandra said...

"Try living in an HMO (house in multiple occupation) full of couples, all too poor for one-bed flats, using one tiny kitchen with a punitive roster for cooking time and the bathroom, where the lounge is used as another bedroom."

- I am one of those couples. I live in a lovely London area, with my husband-to-be...and four male flatmates that wouldn't know how to flush a toilet to save their lives, let alone complicated matters like taking the bins out.

We're fed up, we're stressed, we're angry, but we're freelancers and can't even afford a studio flat. Yesterday I got offered a studio for £1,100 pcm. Enough said.

But we're not as bad off as some of the people in your post, so I guess I'm done complaining for now. Great post though. Very thought-provoking.

Anonymous said...

"Try living in an HMO (house in multiple occupation) full of couples, all too poor for one-bed flats, using one tiny kitchen with a punitive roster for cooking time and the bathroom, where the lounge is used as another bedroom."

I've done this. It was disgusting -we couldn't afford to heat the place properly, all our clothes went mouldy, used to wake up with damp sheets, shift workers keeping you up drinking all night, no living room as it was bedroom - only refuge was your room which you were usually drying your clothes in as there was no garden and if you dried them in the kitchen they'd end up stinking of food and fags. Differing levels of hygiene eg. piss on toilet floor, never any toilet paper. Fucks sake it was pretty much the young ones. £500 a month not including bills too.