Private renters – What choice(s) do we have?

Hannah Fearn recently focused on the Residental Landlords’ Association’s call to politicians to back regulations they feel will increase properties and raise standards in the PRS. All parties are urged in this election year to support this sector which the RLA feels has the potential to become ‘a first choice for those seeking a place to live’. Hannah points out that far from making an active ‘choice’ about their tenure, private renters of 2015 feel ‘trapped’ and optionless.

She’s right.

For me there are few tenure options available. In terms of buying, I’m a professional earning an above average salary but with 3 children and associated rent and bills, saving money for a deposit on a mortgage is a slow business. Even with a deposit, were I to try to get a mortgage now I am also likely to be quizzed on my expenditure and outgoings to a degree that hasn’t been seen since the 1970s, I’d imagine. It’s not just about how much you earn now but how it’s spent. No possibility of hiding the fact that after my rent, bills, travel for work, child related expenditure, I’m feeling pleased if I’m still in the black at the end of the month.

So where else could I live? My Nan, bless her, couldn’t get her head around the fact that there wasn’t council housing available for all who would benefit from it any more. In the days not that long ago when as a family we had a much more limited income and literally couldn’t make ends meet, she would phone my mum to ask why we didn’t ‘go down the council’ to sort ourselves a council house. Private renters like me know why: social housing or council housing is simply not an option for us. The only situation in which it might be is if we were made homeless with our young children in tow, then we would probably qualify for a room in a homeless hostel for an unspecified amount of time. Hardly a choice; it’s an absolute last resort.

Other choices? Well, in theory I could perhaps buy something too small to accommodate my family but which I could let out to other private renters while at the same time renting somewhere myself. This would mean someone else pays the mortgage on a property they will never own but which will be increasing in value until I cash it in myself. For some that might work but it’s not a choice for me. An investment is not my priority, I just want a house to live and raise my family in and do what I blooming well please with.

I am not a person who experiences limitations generally; in fact, luckily choices abound in the other areas of my life. In my work I have responsibility for and influence others. I have a successful career. I strive towards autonomy in my work life and indeed achieve it. It makes me frustrated and angry that I can’t have that degree of self-sufficiency in relation to the place where I live. It makes me more so to think that my own children may be in an even worse position than me and I really have no idea what to do to avert such a catastrophe.

So this is the situation I find myself in as a 40-something professional and mum of 3 in 2015: I rent privately and will continue to do so for the rest of my life. I cannot save money for a deposit and even if I did, I wouldn’t expect to pass the spending test when applying for a mortgage. The only change I could imagine would be if I were made homeless by some terrible twist of fate. Then I may find myself in a homeless hostel and some years down the line I might be housed. In short, I rent privately because as Hannah Fearn explained, there is no other choice available.

Change that please.

This piece was originally posted on Fiona's personal blog. If you would like to contribute to our blog, please email info@generationrent.org.

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