Comment: There are reasons to be cheerful about renting in London
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Yes, home ownership is out of reach for many, but would we care so much if renting weren’t so bleak? And are there any reasons to be cheerful about being a London renter?
There’s a lot of doom and gloom out there about renting – I should know, I’ve contributed to the collective pot with relative frequency. But this week we’ve tried to find the positives of renting and re-think it as a choice, not a hostage situation.
Diagnose us with Stockholm Syndrome if you like, but I think it’s time to at least acknowledge the fact that we (I should point out now that I’m talking about privately renting millennials, a.k.a. Generation Rent, not families or social tenants) are choosing extortionate rents in zone 2 over homes we could potentially afford to own one day at the other end of a two-hour commute.
Yes, it seems like a false choice when a lot of us have parents who blithely brought us up in the heart of London whilst being no more ambitious and leading no more ascetic lifestyles than us, but don’t forget they sometimes felt like their living circumstances were less than perfect too.
In addition, some people do make the choice to live amid green fields or near grammar schools and as a consequence tackle the vagaries of Southern Rail every day because they have decided the pay off is worth it.
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In a similar vein, I have to accept that on some level I have decided that the pay off of having some of the world’s best bars and restaurants on my doorstep, not to mention an array of theatres, cinemas and art galleries is worth sacrificing a bit of stability (and a lot of money) for.
So, while I don’t for one moment think the current situation of renters, particularly the many who are worse off than me, is fair; while I still emphatically believe that we need genuinely affordable rents in a city where housing costs have soared as wages have stagnated; and while I continue to rail at the injustice of arbitrary rent rises and evictions from landlords who don’t even pretend to think they should offer something additional in return, I do think the time has come to make a sort of peace with the situation while we’re in it.
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This is not a sop to the “profligate millennials should save more and work harder” generational inequality deniers of the world. But if owning property weren’t tied so tightly to financial security and residential personhood in British society, there’s plenty that appeals about it.
For starters you don’t have to forgo fun every time the boiler breaks down and you have to fork out for the replacement – I don’t feel like I ever want to know the name of a good plumber, unless she’s a pal.
You also don’t have to worry about really scary things like negative equity and interest rate rises. Losing a home you own has long term financial consequences far worse than occasional rent arrears.
And yes, it’s lovely to make a place your own but how many people are truly interested enough in home renovations to lose every weekend to them without the added value figure ratcheting up in the back of their mind?
As part of a generation staring down the barrel of an impoverished old age, these are small comforts to non home owners at the moment. But if we ever achieve affordable rent, higher interest rates offering better returns on savings and strict and enforced regulations on landlords meaning rentals can truly feel like home, even for families, then renting really isn’t so bad. At least, that’s what I like to tell myself.