Book review by NOAH KEATE
In a parallel universe, where Brexit and coronavirus never happened, housing would be one of the big policy areas dominating conversation. It deserves to be. Having a safe place to live, work, relax and unwind shouldn’t be the privilege it has become. In ‘Generation Rent: Why You Can’t Buy a Home (Or Even Rent a Good One)’, Chloe Timperley highlights that housing harmony is far from a reality. On the contrary, it is one of the biggest crises facing the UK.
The scandal comes as the government proposes to liberate planning laws. Potentially allowing more houses to be built, this book suggests that new homes by themselves won’t solve the problem. While the supply of housing is a real challenge, housing must be priced affordably and reasonably. That it isn’t, and people end up spending so much of their disposable income on a rent or mortgage, demonstrates that financial insecurity and housing are peas in a pod.
Timperley examines the crisis of prospective home purchasers, whether first timers or experienced, attempting to access a mortgage. A huge sum of money borrowed from a bank, repaid over decades. However, it can’t be repaid if the sum is never given. ‘Generation Rent’ highlights how, in response to the financial crisis, the generosity of banks providing mortgages has vanished. Timperley even finds scenarios where banks won’t provide the cash for fear of owners being unable to keep up their mortgage repayments, even when their current rent repayments are higher.
Affordability is a word and theme that runs throughout the book. Often, children have to rely on the wealth and finances of their ancestors. Timperley found that, if the Bank of Mum and Dad were real, it would be the 11th biggest mortgage lender in the UK, supplying £6.3 billion in home buying in 2018. House purchasing then is intrinsically based on previous wealth and privilege, pricing out those with limited finances to their name.
The situation isn’t helped by billionaires buying out houses in central London for tens of millions. This then trickles down the housing ladder, as families or individuals are forced further out into the suburbs, with the poorest most affected. Socially, it prevents any kind of community from having houses sitting vacant at completely unreasonable prices. It is only reasonable for the wealthiest.
‘Generation Rent’, unsurprisingly, doesn’t shy away from talking about the private rental sector. With the number of social houses decimated since Right to Buy was introduced in the 1980s, individuals are forced into potentially exploitative inadequate housing. The book isn’t afraid to take both sides of the argument, stating that landlords can be worried about inadequate tenants. Timperley however, argues that tenants have far more to lose from a poor landlord than the other way around.
The book is most effective not when it uses statistics but when focusing on real life examples. Oftentimes, the names are changed to protect anonymity. Powerful stories about individuals who have discovered, at short notice, they are to be evicted. Landlords desperate to make some extra cash. Recent graduates are able to afford houses only thanks to their parents. Timperley even attends a conference for landlords, aware she can only fully understand the situation from the inside.
‘Generation Rent’ is an inspiring call for change that fails to accept housing will always be a disastrous part of public policy. Calling for a land value tax, Timperley suggests it would prevent sitting on land without improving it as futile and expensive. Similarly, the book argues for reforming council tax, which is currently based on property valuations from 1991.
Timperley recognises that politics is at the heart of housing. Given home ownership was and continues to be an aspiration for many, governments are likely to prioritise their needs to win votes. With NatWest bank predicting that, in 2025, more people will rent than pay a mortgage, that situation is likely to dramatically change for our generation. As the book argues, ‘the real dream is to live a life where you can forget about housing’. Until then, it’s time to unlock the door, get angry and demand a different future.