If you were born in the 8os, chances are you’re living in grungy, miserably small, rented accommodation while dreaming of that beautiful family home … keep dreaming
As I drove through Nine Elms, Vauxhall, Oval and Elephant and Castle on my way to work on the 196 bus route, it is quite clear to me, my neighbours and Londoners that the city is rapidly changing. From the MI6 HQ to Battersea Power Station, all along the river bank there are miles and miles of cranes, dust and drilling. It is the largest regeneration project London has seen since the end of the Second World War. All the works, apart from a few new superstores and the new US Embassy, are focused on building new affordable housing for younger working Londoners.
There are other new faces in town who already have nicknames of their own. For example, buildings like The Cheese Grater (The Leadenhall Building), The Walkie-Talkie (Fenchurch), The Shard — literally, who may soon have a twin — and the Owl Building (Strata). As soon as a new kid joins the block, everyone has to give it a welcoming nickname to the family. It happened when St Mary Axe was built in December 2003, which quickly became known as The Gherkin.
These are at the very centre of London’s metropolitan business areas. Regeneration works being done in Nine Elms and Elephant and Castle are meant to be residential improvements because we all know there is a housing problem. Around these new buildings, roads are being pedestrianised and some have called it ‘gentrifying the south’. Even though places like Elephant are at the centre of the London map, the north and south pride is strong. The word ‘affordable’, however, seems to carry a different meaning for different people, especially the people responsible for providing housing for Londoners. They seem to think affordable means one or two bedroom flats with an open kitchen for at least £2,000 a month. In areas I have mentioned above, the rent is usually £3-5,000 a month.
The Neo Bankside residential blocks epitomise this by showing off their status as ‘The first riverside apartments … From £5,999 a month’. They are buildings that, at first look completely normal and full of furniture, but when you look closer they are lifeless and hollow. The furniture is brand new, all in the same style. No clutter whatsoever and no one is at home in all three buildings, on any floor. It is especially odd as it is a Sunday afternoon and even more odd given that these buildings are meant to make the area more affluent, a target area for residency.
Instead, they are dolls’ houses — a representation of the epic fail of the London housing system. A representation of how no one can afford the new apartments so they had to fill them with furniture to make them look like a success rather than the disastrous space-wasters that they are for real Londoners with real wages. I saw this when I visited the new Tate Modern building, The Switch House. You can see quite clearly from the view on the 10th floor that none of these apartments have anyone living in them. We began thinking they were some kind of giant art piece demonstrating the disappointment London has experienced with the new ‘affordable homes’.
I deliberately put ‘homes’ in inverted commas as all the work being done appears to be solely on one to three bedroom flats, no houses or gardens. There has been many a case where young couples have not been able to start a family because they cannot move out of their small flats on account of the high costs of other apartments. It begs the question, will there be any homes left when generation rent has reached the age when they would like to settle down, or will we be forced to live in cramped accommodation for the rest of our lives?
Getting onto the housing ladder isn’t even an option. The number between £500k and £600k has been used a lot to describe London’s average housing price. The real figures, however, are quite different. A two bedroom flat in Camberwell is priced at £805k and a two bedroom house in Clapham is priced at £1.7 million. Other prices nationwide are completely different. In Yorkshire, a five bedroom detached house averages at £454,995 and a three bedroom semi-detached house for rent stands at £495 per month. That figure isn’t even half of what Londoners would have to pay per week for the same size and quality.
These figures paint a daunting picture for generations ahead and indeed the ones living this reality now. When will those building the new residential blocks realise that real people have to live in them, and for a lot longer than they plan to?