London - Can You Call it Home?
By Iulia Schiopu, 3rd year BA Journalism & Media student
“I somehow never expected this”, said Ina, when discussing her initial idea of London.
Shoreditch, rooftop parties, and Camden Goths – how much more liveliness can you desire? The creativity, the open-mindedness, and the overall opportunities associated with London turned the capital into an attractive destination for many students. They left their homes – be those in the UK or in dozens of other countries – only to experience the exciting student life this city promises to offer. But can this excitement last long enough, when excessive bills rush through your doorway? How do the opportunities compensate for a lousy room in 5 bed flat? These questions seem rhetorical when they permeate the minds of contemporary London’s students.
In the last couple of years, the UK capital has undergone a tumultuous development, which left it with plenty unresolved issues. Londoners have seen a rise in the cost of living in this metropolis, which is rarely equated by other cities.
Transport fees, food and clothing prices, the discrepancies between wages and expenses are all matters that worry London’s inhabitants. But lately, there has been one more thoroughly discussed than others: the property prices. Defined as a ‘crisis’, the housing situation here seems to have worsened significantly, leaving many people unable to cover their rents, purchase their own properties, or simply have the assurance that they will have an acceptable place to live in.
This crisis’ causes are numerous. For once, property speculation, explained as buying or holding a property in the eventuality of its value increasing, is actively shaping the housing market in London. Like this, wealthy individuals end up purchasing flats, houses, or even buildings, only to keep them empty, until the market fluctuations ensure the possibility of selling them for higher profit.
Inevitably, this contributes to an increase in prices, as well as to a decrease in the number of properties available for those in need of a home. What’s more problematic is that council houses are also rapidly sold out; they become someone’s privately owned property, ultimately leaving dozens of unfortunate tenants homeless. And in the end, all these price increasers lead to the unavoidable gentrification. As it happened with Stratford after 2012, businesses capitalise on the transformation of formal council houses into private accommodations, as it raises the value of the area. Expensive bars, restaurants, flats, and supermarkets gradually infiltrate different parts of London, making them unaffordable for their locals, who now could have to relocate.
But how does this affect those who study in the capital? A student living here for 6 months has yet to experience these issues, but she already sees them as problematic. Iulia, in her first year at Middlesex, says living in the Halls has been providing her with stability, but the prospect of moving out is daunting. “At the moment, I am glad with what the University Halls have to offer. But the idea of having to find another flat, with a reasonable rent, which is so unlikely, is scary. I have seen my older friends having lots and lots of problems with various houses, and I can say I’m definitely not looking forward to finding another accommodation”, said Iulia.
However, for Ina, a student in her third year of studying and living in London, the situation differs. “I get that London is a big city. It’s the capital of the former British Empire, which makes it appealing at first. Paying thousands, tens of thousands of pounds on rent in the time spent here as a student seems initially worth it” said Ina. But the housing arrangements in the capital have proved strenuous for her, as throughout her 3-years stay here she has had to change properties. As the rent prices consistently failed to match the quality of the property, Ina’s experience with housing has been demoralising.
“I somehow did not expect this. I’ve had to deal with atrocious conditions, and very unresponsive and rude landlords, and it’s very tiring. But, you know, more than tiring it is really, really frustrating. All my personal choices indicate that I should stay in London, but the housing situation is so grave, that it really makes me want to leave London. And it sucks, because I have invested so much time, and so much money in this place, that I want to get something in return. But it’s very problematic, because I will soon graduate, and having the thought that I might be a bit unemployed for a while in London is just intensely scary. It makes everything very unstable. If I don’t pay for my rent, who will? And if I can’t get a job, how could I pay?’ said the student about her latest struggles in London.
It is important to acknowledge housing’s problematic impact on a student’s life choices. As Ina mentioned, solely for studying here, students have already invested a large amount of money in London. The majority of them owe a minimum sum of 27 thousand pounds. Without a consistent income, they seem to struggle even when imagining their future in London. It seems unfair for their income to play a more decisive role in their possibilities than their abilities do.
With the housing crisis appearing often too difficult to overcome, as students become more frustrated at what the capital has to offer, can London still continue to act as a desirable destination? It is uncertain, as perhaps the opportunities can suffice for a while; maybe the booming diversity that makes many feel included can continue to fuel the desire to be here, despite the difficulties. And perhaps the situation will eventually improve. However, it seems evident that the housing crisis is actively hindering many students’ lives. The image of London is rapidly degrading in their eyes, as students, with a minimum debt of 27 thousand pounds, can go back to their hometowns, and justifiably shout ‘I can’t afford to ever go back’.