I was brought up in Isleworth West London and have now realised I take for granted my ability to live comfortably in the capital from the day I was born. My dad is a carpenter and my mum a gardener. I’d personally place us somewhere within the middle-class; where exactly, it doesn’t matter. The point is that three years ago, after around 20 years of mortgage payments, my parents were finally able to become fully-fledged home owners.
In late September this year, during the twilight of yet another year at university, I was at the pub with my family before they sent me off the following day. My dad and older brother were in a discussion about the current housing crisis in London. My brother currently lives at home with my parents and likes to remind of us of the fact he’d probably be living somewhere else if the state of housing was not so miserable in London. He was explaining to my dad the impossible situation that young people now face with regard to property prices, claiming that this was the main reason he was considering moving to Berlin. My dad responded somewhat defensively, declaring that it was extremely difficult for him to get onto the property ladder too. He is, of course, right. It was a painfully difficult process for him to eventually acquire a house. However, my dad’s reluctance to fully acknowledge the scale of the problem that young people now face, particularly in London, somewhat demonstrates the problem; the disparity in economic status between that of London’s homeowners and those new to the market.
Later on in the debate, the argument lost some of its intensity and became more of a conversation. My dad pointed out that our house was now worth, shockingly, around half a million. When he had bought the property, some 20 years ago, it was worth around 100 thousand.
Where homeowners reap financial gratification from the increasing value of their property, accounting for around a third of the population, those new to the market are struggling to make ends meet, let alone get onto the property ladder. This has come to affect not only the most vulnerable in society, but the middle class too. The distinction between homeowners and renters is becoming increasingly entangled with the generational divide. An unfortunate feature of this arrangement is that those in power, mostly of the older generation, fail to fully acknowledge or take seriously the scale of the problem, as embodied in the discussion between my brother and dad.
In 2017, for the first time, private renting overtook mortgaged home ownership in London. What’s more home ownership in Britain has not exceeded the European average of around 70% since the early 2000s. With a complete lack of regulation of the housing market, the result is that housing prices are perpetually shooting into the stratosphere. This may be a manageable and even welcomed development on the part of those who had purchased their property 30 years ago, but for millions of young people, often already saddled with university debt, their prospects of someday owning a property in the London housing market are pathetically unrealistic.
The reality that many young people now face is that London remains the epicentre of job prospects whilst also being one of the most expensive places to live. Nonetheless, weighing up the pros and cons has persuaded an increasing proportion of them to move to another city or area of the country. If the reality of the housing market in London is so bleak that it’s persuading young people to move cities or, in some cases, to literally leave the country, then something drastic needs to change.
Sadiq Khan’s pledge to build 66 thousand new homes a year, 65% of which would be considered affordable, offers a new glimpse of hope, but in order for the housing crisis to be addressed fully, and for young people to have genuinely reasonable prospects at eventual home ownership, the government’s housing policy needs to be radically altered.