I once worked at a women’s magazine that the staff were convinced was cursed. “Celebrities” – often in some way related to Strictly Come Dancing – would gush in cover interviews about how loved-up they were with their partner, only for the relationship to end in the few days between us sending the magazine to the printers and it being on newsstands. I am coming to believe that the NS back pages are similarly cursed: that there is only so long you can appear alongside the esteemed Nicholas Lezard and his tales of woeful hovels before having a housing crisis of your own.
I hope he’ll allow me this brief foray into his territory because my landlord is putting up my rent by £200 a month, and I don’t have another £200 a month, and so I must move out – two months today, as I write this. He served me with a soon-to-be-abolished section 21 eviction notice, which felt a little unnecessary given I had already said I would have to leave; the equivalent of having the last word in an argument.
I have never met nor spoken to said landlord – our exchanges are carried out, tortuously, via an estate agent – and so there are no compromises to be sought or appeals to conscience to be made. Our relationship is anonymous, transactional. I imagine that not having to face the human cost of his pursuit of “market value” makes it easier for him to stomach. I wonder what possible difference that much money, diminished as it will be after tax and agent fees, can possibly make to his life; what an overwhelming difference it makes to mine.
This will be the tenth time I have moved in my adult life, and while the charity-shop clear-outs and change-of-address letters rather suit my proclivity for list-making and logistics, it is an exhausting upheaval, and the annual uncertainty of tenancy renewal means I never quite settle, never truly feel a place is mine.
This time, though, this is not the problem. The problem is that my landlord is quite right that my current rent – although already 60 per cent of my monthly income – is below market rate, which means that I can’t afford to move in anywhere else, either.
Of course, it would be cheaper to share a flat than to live alone, but there are far fewer moving parts among my friends than there were five years ago, most either having bought a place of their own or, renting with a partner, with no desire for a third wheel. And the idea of moving in with strangers at the age of 30, after two years of living alone, is unappealing and infantilising. I am quite sure some will think this a snobbish and spoilt reaction, and perhaps it is, but I am also quite sure that such readers bought their first property in the fabled years when wages at least vaguely kept pace with house prices.
I have, for the purposes of this column, done the sickening sums to work out how much I have paid in rent over the seven years since I moved out of my mother’s house, and thus how much longer I would have to have stayed at home to save a deposit for a one-bedroom flat in the area where I now live. Another 11 years is the answer – and that’s assuming that in 11 years’ time property prices were at today’s levels. Am I wrong to feel angry that, despite having ambitions and working hard in pursuit of them, despite earning a statistically above-average salary, I am unable to afford a space that is mine, all mine, in the area in which I have lived since I was 23?
The solution to my little crisis will likely involve my leaving the one-mile radius in which I have lived my entire independent adult life. In which I have frequented one cinema, one doctor’s surgery, one supermarket. In which I can be at the door of any number of close friends within ten minutes’ walk. No amount of diligent work nor conscientiousness has earned me the right to live (at least as a single person) in the area I love.
Perhaps the change will do me good; perhaps it is the final stage of “uncoupling”, to leave the flat into which A— helped me lug my furniture two years ago, in which we sat and ate fish and chips surrounded by boxes, in which I put myself back together again. But for now I grieve, and rail against the faceless market, my faceless landlord, the coldness of it all.
This article appears in the 13 Jul 2022 issue of the New Statesman, The Selfish Giant