Generation Rent supporter Paris describes the racism she has faced whilst renting.
The rental crisis, sure everybody’s heard of it. But past the surface-level topics, there’s something more sinister happening. It’s time we spoke about race in the housing crisis.
As a young Black working-class woman, I never really anticipated my race could have such an impact on finding a place to live. That sounds strange saying that, given I work in policy and I have carved a career out of fighting against systematic oppression across different sectors- including housing. Racism is no new struggle to me; I’ve been aware of it since school because I grew up in a very white city. But one feat I didn’t have to endure was insecure housing because I grew up in a council house.
As a child, I never realised I lived in a council house; I thought my mum owned our house because, unlike peers at school who would frequently tell us they were moving again because of private landlords, I luckily never endured this. Social housing gave me and my mum security, something as a child I never realised just how precious my circumstances were. But as an adult, I’m angry I can’t feel secure, and I don’t feel safe in a private rental because of both insecurity and the violence and abuse I’ve faced.
Like many students studying in London, I fled home during the pandemic, and my journey to resist the harsh housing sector began then; I just wasn’t as radical or frustrated. I then found my first job while I was finishing my degree. This was in 2021, and suddenly, the world began to reopen in July. I had to find a place to live and one that wasn’t student accommodation.
I spent hours researching, and finally, I was going to have a room which wasn’t a pokey student accommodation room. Oh, how wrong was I! I spent a long time posting ‘About me’s’ in Facebook groups for graduates, but they had little engagement. Was it the racist algorithms, or was it racism and the not-so-unconscious bias that meant the white women in these groups scrolled past? When I did see rooms within my price range and zone, I was met with classism and elitism. Questions such as ‘Where did you go to university?’ and ‘Why wasn’t your university a Russell group?’ became all too common. As well as questions about if I ate ‘smelly food’. Facebook groups became exhausting, so I took advice from people to try the infamous SpareRoom. But, it was on SpareRoom where I had the most horrendous experiences.
Eventually, I thought I’d found a room. Desperate, I paid £ 1,200 to a ‘landlord’, only to find that this was an Airbnb scam. I only received £1 back from my bank.
Desperate for a room, I reluctantly went back to SpareRoom. Landlords were quick to dismiss me because I just wasn’t the ‘right fit’. Eventually, after many sleepless nights and tears shed, I found a legitimate room. The room looked fabulous. Citizens Advice Bureau checked the contract, and I was good to go, right? I arrived back in London excited about moving into my new home. I wasn’t anticipating what I later walked into. The carpet was splattered in black, the mattress was covered in stains, and the wardrobes had mould in them. After several back-and-forth conversations, it was agreed the landlord would paint the walls and install a new carpet. My mum agreed to pay for all the new furniture. I returned back up north until this was complete.
When I eventually moved in, I found the situation to be stressful; I lived with three men who never locked the flat door. I went to sleep often, fearful anyone could break in. Indeed, they did; after being stalked on the tube, one day I returned home to my stalker standing in the hallway. Luckily, nothing serious happened; but the police were unhelpful, and it heightened my fears even more. The kitchen was often littered with three-day-old plates and an overflowing bin. All I knew was crying got me through those dark days. When I would find the courage to speak up, housemates would resort to throwing misogynistic and racist slurs at me instead of just stopping and thinking about their behaviour. For the sake of my sanity, I had to get out of the flat, but I had to weigh that up, knowing the housing market had got worse.
I braced myself before pressing ‘renew ad’, and then I began scrolling, and unsurprisingly, rent had rapidly risen; rooms were no longer £800; they were now £1k+. Responses were often few and far between; I was left on read, and automated replies were very common. After three months of living in Hell and searching for a new place, life did not seem worth living.
I was searching in November when I hoped the market would be quieter, but it was still busy, and after work, I would frequently view three or four rooms, often returning home at 10 p.m. or later. I was meeting the Transport for London weekly travel cap as I raced about London to see different viewings. My bank balance was diminishing, my mental health was diminishing, and my zest for life was waning.
I had landlords inspect my passport under lights and daylight as they didn’t believe I was a British citizen. Landlords asked me if I smoked weed because ‘previous Black tenants had’. I also started to have to provide my LinkedIn and write over-complicated bios neatly describing myself in 150 words or less. Still, I couldn’t secure anything. Yet when I spoke to white people, their experiences were rough, but eventually, they found somewhere safe and secure. A place to call home, something I was unsuccessful with.
I suspected racism was at play on SpareRoom, so I set up an account seemingly from a white woman, giving her name of Latisha Smith. I began to send the same messages from my account, and her account, ‘Latisha’ received three times the responses as me.
All whilst I was trying to secure new housing, the cycle of abuse and harassment in my ‘home’ continued. I had a new housemate move in, again a male; he seemed nice at first. But then the harassment started; when his children would stay on a weekend, they would shriek and wander in the hallway. When I used to return home from the gym in my gym wear, they would begin crying because, in his words, ‘I was exposing too much flesh’. One housemate slapped my mum and said, ‘I was asking for it’ simply because of my clothing. It got worse when a housemate poisoned me. I had been experiencing symptoms of poisoning for a significant period of time, but I just put it down to the stress my body was under until I returned home to my family home and was fine. Odd, I thought, until I got back to London to find my fellow housemate had just got home from hospital with ‘suspected food
poisoning’. I quizzed him on his symptoms, and they matched mine. I alerted the landlord, who did nothing; I bought a spy camera which caught my housemate placing something in my butter. I sent the footage to my landlord, who said they wouldn’t do anything because I had filmed without his consent.
On top of this horrible experience, three weeks later, I developed a chest infection because I had also been living with mould and damp for over five months, and the landlord refused to fix it until I went to the media with my story.
I knew the system was rigged when I thought I’d secured a place, only for the landlord to pull out a week before moving in. I then saw the property still being advertised on SpareRoom. My mum rang the landlord, pretending to be a prospective tenant, and the landlord confirmed that the property was still available. My mum disclosed who she was; later that day, my deposit returned swiftly, and an apology was sent via WhatsApp.
When I entered the housing market again, I began documenting my experience on Twitter and screenshotting all the evidence, including a thread on the cost of houseshares. I was also sent multiple messages of similar experiences. At this point, I became very aware housing was an investment and not seen as a basic human right. The impact and toll on my mental health has been undeniable. I sleep with an alarm for safety under my door and try to return to my family home up north as much as possible for respite.
It is emotionally exhausting to keep being rejected and face the constant stream of questions that I know white colleagues have not faced.
Fortunately for me, I have managed to save a 5% deposit for a home, and I continue to save, but even within the ‘mortgage’ part of the housing sector, I face racism, with accusations about how and why someone like me have that much money saved.
The issue was never me. Housing is no longer a right but a luxury. We should aspire to our future generations having access to secure housing that is safe from violence. The process of finding a house should not lead to depression nor dehumanise people. Yet, in Britain, the system does exactly this.
The problem isn’t you: it’s seeing housing as a commodity and it’s racism!
Long live a housing revolution!