Why All the Fuss about Renting?
Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 15th August, 2010
The ‘golden age’ of home ownership is ending, trumpets the Observer on its front page, as if this is a tragedy of huge importance. ‘Young people face a lifetime of renting instead’, the article wails. But let’s look at the facts, as well as my own personal experience. When I came down from university, I rented a flat in Pimlico with a former university chum; I couldn’t afford a place on my own. Then Reuters sent me to Brussels, where I rented for seven years (as many people in Belgium and Germany, more significantly, do). I returned to London in 1982 and rented, in South Kensington, before buying my first home at the age of 33. The mortgage payments were more than I could really afford, however, so two years later I sold and rented again for a while, in Tower Hamlets, before buying a house here with a friend. All these latter moves were of course during the Thatcher era when home ownership became a shibboleth (set in stone by a woman who believed anyone still using public transport at age 30 was a failure). Alas, New Labour adopted the policy hook, line and sinker. As the Labour MP Denis MacShane points out in a separate article in today’s Observer, ‘Labour was in denial over the growing crisis in social housing… Since 1997, under a Labour government, 481,530 council homes have been sold off.’ Home ownership has become a national obsession and house prices, especially in London and the South East, are now grotesque. Of course many young people cannot afford to get on the property ladder (or indeed many older non-homeowners). But the answer to this is simple, surely? Remove the stigma from renting, build more social housing for rent, scrap the right-to-buy legislation and encourage more private rentals at affordable rates too. That would also make it easier for people to move, which is an important factor in a period of greater job-led mobility.