METERMy housemates and I faced a no-fault eviction notice in September, so I spent last New Year’s Eve hauling my possessions around South London, moving back into my family home on a social housing estate. . It was a degrading experience. Coming home felt like a step back to being a 20-year-old, but I was facing price increases of at least 75% if I returned to the rental market, so I swallowed my pride.
When I’m sorry I’ve been evicted from my apartment, one response I’ve received several times is, “Well, now that you’re home you can save up a deposit and buy a property, and then you won’t have to.” Worry about it again.
But I have no desire to buy a house. If there was a long term stable rental option in the UK I would take it. I know it sounds crazy. For many, not seeing their youth as a slow march up the housing ladder seems to betray a lack of aspiration. After all, young would-be homeowners occupy a political battleground, with both major parties trying to refine their offerings for “first-time buyers.”
But even after having dealt with the rough edges of the rental market, I can’t help but feel that the cult of home ownership is an imposition on young people: when you get to the real reasons why people want to buy a house, how much of it comes down to genuine desire, and how much of it is force of circumstance?
The urge to save big and buy as soon as possible is partly due to how unreliable and poor the rental market is. Rising rents, no no-fault eviction protection, few rights for tenants, and little to no freedom to redecorate or even have pets. These are all reasons why people aspire to own their own homes, as well as the promise of long-term security in retirement, when you finally live in a mortgage-free home. And, of course, there are plenty of incentives to buy more houses and profit from them. The British dream often seems to consist of escaping the threat of landlords by becoming one.
But even so, home ownership remains undesirable for me. I don’t have mum and pop’s bank, so I’d have to spend years being frugal, scraping together pounds and pence in the hope of saving enough for a deposit. And the goal posts are continually changing as house prices continue to rise. Even if I did get the funds, I would probably have to buy a house far from where I grew up in Battersea. And aside from all that, dealing with the hassle and expense of maintenance and repairs isn’t a particularly exciting prospect either.
I’d rather spend my money on fashion, eating out, concert tickets aka participating in the economy. I know they’ll give me lessons in financial responsibility, but if you work hard, you should be able to spend on what makes you happy.
Why have so many of us accepted home ownership as the default option to escape the woes of the rental market? After all, the security of homeownership seems overrated. I was curious to read about the rise in “mortgage prisoners” facing homelessness and financial ruin because they bought houses with variable interest rates that have now skyrocketed. It is becoming increasingly clear that both low- and middle-income renters and homeowners are big losers in the housing game, but landlords’ concerns remain what appear to be the highest political priority. Tenant unions and tenant campaigns across the country are fighting hard against wrongful evictions, but seem to find no voice among any of the major political parties.
Could we not have a rental market where tenants receive clean, safe, affordable, rent-controlled housing that they can count on for their entire lives? I know it’s possible, because it’s where I live now: my family home in a social development, where we’ve lived since 1998. But social housing is still seen as a temporary shame, something we should aspire to extinguish through the masses. home ownership, rather than a system that needs expansion.
Realizing this requires radical action, but not an imaginative leap. In Germany, the home ownership rate was only 49.5% in 2021, and unlimited rental contracts are common. While rental accommodation can be hard to find, renting is the norm, even preferred, offering a flexibility and affordability that suits young people who want more freedom, and also seniors who are happy to downsize in retirement once their families are gone. the nest. Meanwhile, Finland introduced a Housing First policy in 2008 in an attempt to end homelessness by providing housing to all who need it, because Helsinki maintained a massive supply of social housing. The UK’s social housing stock was decimated by Margaret Thatcher’s right to buy initiative, creating new entrenched class interests in home ownership. But our social housing infrastructure could be rebuilt, if only there was the political will.
I know that the housing situation in the UK will not change overnight. If my career goes well, I will almost certainly buy a house. But I see people my age brandishing keys with beaming faces when they announce their purchases on social media, and I wonder how they can get so excited. Somehow it feels like a trap. I think about what my announcement post would say when I finally admit defeat and get a mortgage: “I got caught, y’all.”