Catch up on ‘Life off the ladder’

Chaired by The Guardian’s Aditya Chakrabortty, our discussion ‘Life off the ladder‘ on 15 June 2016 focused on the rise of long-term renting in Britain.

Whether through choice or necessity, 11 million people are currently off the property ladder and in private renting. Over half of Londoners rent. Who is off the ladder, when do they have a hope of getting on, and in the 21st Century do they really need to?

Rosie Walker, Co-author of The Rent Trap and co-ordinator of Renters’ Rights London
By the age of 36, Rosie Walker had lived in her fair share of mouldy, rat infested rented properties – 15 to be precise. Rosie argued that aside from living conditions, it is the lack of security and rights that is the real issue for renters. Tenants on short contracts can be evicted at short notice for little or no reason. Relationships between landlords and tenants can be strained and Rosie probed the psychology of landlords and what it means to be an ethical landlord, along with questions of power relations, growing inequality and the attitudes and structures that prevent change.

Ben Pentreath
, Architectural and Interior Designer
Since writing a column in the FT titled ‘Why I rent, and would never buy‘, leading designer Ben Pentreath has become something of a poster child for the happy renter, earning him the title ‘rent boy’. Freshly graduated and in the midst of buying a small property in Norfolk, Ben stood in front of what was to become his new home and against societal expectations decided that actually he didn’t want to tie his life to a house. He moved to New York, and on his return to the UK six years later realised that even if he’d wanted to, buying property was no longer achievable due to London’s property boom.

As friends struggled with soaring prices and started compromising on location and space, either moving further out of the city to be able to afford larger family homes, or building extensions, Ben stayed put, continuing to rent in central London, and he continues to enjoy living in his location of choice and the good transport links, amenities and culture it provides.

Work found Ben move to the West Country, and again renting proved the best option. By agreeing with the Landlord to mutually invest in improvements to the property, he was able to negotiate a 10 year lease and live somewhere he would never have been able to buy outright.

Is it time we moved away from our cultural obsession with buying homes and instead explored the many opportunities long-term renting can bring?

Tim Lowe, ‘Secret Tenant’ and Founder of Lowe Cost Guardians
Having heard both positive and negative perspectives on private renting, Tim Lowe added to the discussion, what other options are out there? And is there hope for young people to live affordably in London?

Frustrated with the high cost of renting in London, in 2014, along with Estates Gazette and Knight Frank, graduate property surveyor Tim Lowe undertook a four month investigation into the affordability of renting in central London for young professionals – ‘Lowe Cost Living’. Was it possible to rent within Zone 2 of London for less than £500 per calendar month including all bills? Tim highlighted the opportunities and challenges across different models and locations of housing including; a property guardian scheme, House of Multiple occupants (HMO), a houseboat, a Y cube, an abandoned office, a cooperative housing scheme, and a horsebox.

Tim found that the two things young people really care about are price and location, rather than space or amenities. His key lesson was ‘if you’re prepared to get creative and stuck in, there are ways of saving money and living in great locations’. Generation Rent are more transient in nature and don’t necessarily want to be tied into long rent agreements or ‘stuck’ in one place for too long.

Tim is now using his experience to embark on a new venture: Lowe Cost Guardians. Seeing a gap in the market and a growing movement of people trying to beat the system, Tim hopes to create a model based on community. By using vacant buildings, cheaply renovating them and finding tenants that are ‘socially responsible, economically active young people’ his buildings will get looked after, whilst also creating an affordable and enjoyable living solution for young people. As a society we should utilise the building infrastructure we already have to its true potential and give it fresh life.

Discussion followed with questions concerning legislation, mortgage lending, social renting, and property v. pensions.

Watch the full event online

See a Storify of tweets from the event


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