London / afp
Londoners are getting desperate over rising rents, with residents and students taking to the streets and social media over the cramped conditions tenants are forced to accept.
With house-building lagging well behind the population increase in western Europe’s biggest city, prices are soaring beyond anything affordable. “The situation is becoming untenable,” said retired teacher John Ford, 60, who joined a 2,000-strong protest this month against the government’s new housing bill, which would radically alter public housing and the rights of its tenants.
“My nephew is a young surgeon. He cannot afford, on his salary, to buy a house in London. So this crisis is beginning to eat into the middle class,” he said.
Latest figures show the average London house price was Â£514,097 in December, up 12.4 percent in 12 months, compared to a 6.4-percent increase to Â£188,270 across England and Wales.
The London-wide median rent is Â£122 a week for a room in a shared home; Â£276 for a one-bedroom property and Â£402 for a three-bedroom home.
Many “generation rent” young professionals, whose parents bought comfortable homes in their early 20s, have given up on their dream of ever affording a property in London. Students are also feeling the crisis bite. At University College London, more than 150 students have gone on a rent strike. One UCL block has rooms costing as much as Â£262 a week.
At this month’s protest outside Downing Street, two UCL students carried a symbolic home-made housing ladder, with all but the very top rungs knocked out.
“I don’t see any prospect of owning a home â€” certainly not in London,” said its co-creator, doctorate student Liam Shaw, 24.
Matchbox flats, closet bedrooms
London’s population is at a record high of 8.6 million and growing at around 100,000 a year.
Some 25,994 new homes were built in London in 2015, down nine percent on the previous year.
“People in the lowest-paid jobs have to live on the outskirts of London,” Green Party leader Natalie Bennett said. “We’re now hearing of junior doctors, nurses and teachers having to commute from outside.”
Commuting from outer London is not without cost in time and stress, let alone money. An annual travel pass from the city limits costs Â£2,364.
Part of the problem is wealthy foreign buyers snapping up high-end new developments as a safe investment and leaving them empty while they accrue value. “Buy-to-leave is dreadful. But the real issue is what’s being built: homes designed for just that,” said Bennett.
“Let’s provide genuinely affordable, secure homes for people.”
Some are proposing innovative solutions to the situation.
Rupert Hunt, founder of flatshare website SpareRoom.com, is opening up his own plush home in trendy Shoreditch to lodgers paying whatever they can afford, in a bid to encourage others.
“Demand has increased massively. It’s not unusual to see 10 or 12 people for every room especially in some parts of London,” he said.
“In England there’s something like 19 million spare rooms, empty rooms and if we just convinced three percent of that to take a lodger that’s the size of a small city in extra housing.”
The outrage over rising rent is fed with regular stories in local papers about tenants being offered bedrooms in closets under stairs or in corners of living rooms, or matchbox-size houses selling for astronomical amounts. A flat dubbed the “least expensive” in London, measuring just 75 square feet, sold last month for Â£79,000 in Clapton in east London.
Housing is a major issue in May’s London mayoral election to decide who replaces Boris Johnson.
At a debate this month, the two leading contenders, Conservative Zac Goldsmith and Labour’s Sadiq Khan, outlined their plans.
Goldsmith said transport links must be improved to “reflect the reality of more and more people living on the outskirts”.
Khan vowed to build more “genuinely affordable homes” and clamp down on developers selling property to foreign investors.
With the price of even the average London property going up by Â£10,682 in December alone, there will be little time to waste.