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In my experience

I’m wary of blogging about politics and economics; partly because I’m underqualified and partly because I may not seem to have much experience of what I’m talking about. Then again, half my degree makes me a philosopher king, and I do have some experience of shitty housing. So here, dear reader, is my renting and buying story…

Woe is me: I’m just a poor boy from a poor family, but I was very lucky to have one family connection who got me a job flogging classified ad space for The Mirror in 1996. Not quite a 95k a year job at ITV Digital, but there I was, an Ipswich bumpkin working at One Canada Square, earning what seemed an adult salary of £13,500 a year.

I was the only socialist salesman. I wasn’t very good at the job.

One Canada Square

One Canada Square. Image by Jamie Matthews.

How I loved London and Hackney, where I shared a large, 3 bedroom house for the princely sum of £280 month, including bills and council tax. I was working in a glittering, largely empty, monument to Thatcher while living in a riotous, rough, impossibly diverse part of London, a 30 minute walk from all those Ackroydian corners in the City. I’d buy Turkish bread from my local shop.

(Sidenote: I took the same 277 bus to and from Canary Wharf as Boris Johnson, who I think was working at The Telegraph. We’d often be the only people on the top deck. We never spoke.)

Over the course of the next 8 years or so I rented houses and flats in some wonderfully resonant places: Peckham Rye, where Blake saw angels, Caradoc Street in Greenwich, a 5 minute Thames side stroll to the Cutty Sark and The Trafalgar pub, where I’d meet my wife–to–be after work (it was also the street where they filmed The Krays). And, erm, Charlton.

I finally returned to Hackney, and spent a very happy year in another shared house, this time near gothic Victoria Park and the Hertford Union canal, a bike ride from my job in Bethnal Green. When my wife got pregnant we decided we needed our own place, so we rented a 2 bedroom flat around the corner from my very first London home. Things had changed.

We lived beneath our landlords in a lightless basement. They were a perfectly nice, very middle class couple who’d bought the 4 bedroom pile a few years back. Back in 1996 I’d paid £280 a month all in, now we were paying £1,000 a month, excluding bills and council tax.

We realised we couldn’t afford it, panicked, and left London to spend a few months with my wife’s parents in Colchester, which is where both my children were born. We haven’t moved back since, which is a shame because I love London and it would have been a fantastic place for my children to grow up.

So that’s why I support a Basic Income and building zillions of houses. I was about to start teacher training and my wife was on maternity leave when we left London: a stable, predictable income or an affordable house would have given us time to to weigh up our options and maybe stay in London. Why should we have been priced out of Hackney?

Back in the 90s anyone could move to a rough, central part of London and find a decent job. I wonder if that’s possible now. Gentrification is not new, but are there any affordable houses in Hackney, Peckham, Greenwich, Lambeth etc?

We now live in a poorly designed and cheaply built Crest Nicholson house in Ipswich, which we’ll no doubt make money from when we sell because the local secondary school is “good”. This via 4 overpriced rentals.

That doesn’t include the countless houses we viewed before renting; gruesome, Victorian 2 beds where granny had just died, death clinging to the curtains like cigarette smoke, or the house where the owner hadn’t finished the wall in the kitchen, or the bathroom shower, and brazenly told us he didn’t plan to. He insisted on shaking my hand after showing us around.

We were lucky enough to have some choice in where we lived – presumably some unlucky souls had to live in the houses we could refuse.