As a citizen of London, I am acutely aware of the lack of availability in affordable housing. It takes all sorts to make a city work - and the differing salary levels for different occupations need to be reflected in the living accommodation on offer for all.
The last 20 years have seen significant gentrification of areas like King’s Cross, Battersea and Tower Hamlets. New deluxe property developments have replaced the previously affordable blocks of flats, and have displaced whole communities as a result.
Every city relies on an army of workers attending to a huge variety of jobs / roles, and the majority of which are not particularly well rewarded for their endeavours. This includes junior doctors and nurses, teachers, auxiliary and emergency services staff too as well as junior level office admins and general service industry employees.
The governments, mayors and municipal officials are quite evidently failing to size up the gravity of what is happening, and no one is doing enough to mitigate these problems. The situation is much the same in Reykjavik, where enterprising young professionals have had to start their own home-sharing schemes - with a typical 3-bedroom apartment now often housing three separate couples.
Berlin is the first major city to my knowledge to institute a rent cap - limiting by law the amount landlords can charge their tenants - i.e. no more than 10% higher than the average for a specific area.
The greater difficulty in all of this is that in the UK, it is mortgages / loans which are very much part of the wealth creation for the nation - and for the economy to grow, real-estate prices must rise. Yet this brings with it all manner of peculiarities - such as the fact that a huge swathe of Camden householders are now real-estate millionaires, but would not be able to afford to buy the house they currently live in within the current market.
The house I live in has inflated enormously since it was acquired more than 20 years ago, and the upward trajectory shows no signs of levelling off any time soon. Obviously London is very much a a hot-spot at the moment, and wealthy oligarchs are pushing up the cost of living with their almost limitless access to funds.
As always, what is needed here is a multi-level, multi-phased approach. For definite, more affordable housing needs to be built, but also, there should be proper quotas on the proportion of affordable housing present within any residential development. The recent developments at Tower Hamlets, Battersea, and the reformed 2012 Olympic Village at Stratford ended up with very little in the way of affordable housing - the tiniest token amounts. The real-estate developers seem to be given free reign to go the most profiteering route, with no concessions made towards how those new properties properly serve their communities as well as the parent city at large.
I also believe that the buy-to-rent market has scaled up a little beyond control, and that this is artificially inflating prices too. I have been a renter in London on a number of occasions and was victim to sudden unseasonable and quite unfair rent bumps at all too frequent intervals. There has to be a balance though where a property owner is protected from damages and ruin - but then renters too need more protection from unscrupulous practices. I am usually a free-market advocate, but it seems increasingly that certain controls are needed here to keep everyone in line and working towards the benefit of society.
Many of you have no doubt seen articles in the national press where unscrupulous householders are literally offering up the cupboard under the stairs as viable student accommodation. In another example, the householder had simply erected a temporary partition in their main sitting room - just large enough to accommodate a single mattress! These are most definitely not solutions to the problem.
I very much fear for my nephews and nieces who will be entering the housing market in the next few years. Much more needs to be done, and the lead must come down from government. We used to say ’An Englishman’s home is his castle’ - a cornerstone to a sense of belonging and self-worth. For people to function at their best - they need to feel safe and secure, that they belong and that they are valued - without that, society will break down and fail to function how it should ...