Photo by Virojt Changyencham

What you lose while renting

The housing crisis has miserable micro-consequences

Artillery Row

Recently, after a Park Run event, I noticed a sign reading, “NO Barbecues allowed in any Islington Parks.” Whilst other runners were busy debriefing and recording their times, I fired off a Tweet signalling my disapproval of the poster. So intense was the subsequent engagement that I began to wonder whether BBQs could ever become a mundane electoral issue, like potholes. People, whatever their views, seemed to really, really care about the politics of charred sausages.

One common response to my post told me that I was “entitled” to think I had the right to a BBQ in a public space. I was even advised to move out of the city. (This seemed a bit far fetched. “Why did you move here?” “Well, I really wanted a BBQ.”) My point was never that I wanted to put on a spread in the middle of Islington, though. As a vegetarian of 20 years, I’m actually pretty iffy about BBQs — still haunted by memories of one as a teenager where I was served Heinz tomato soup.

The issue, which most on social media appeared to understand, is that a large part of the country is effectively being denied any option to have a BBQ — because of the housing crisis, paired with councils that ban them in the park. Vast swathes of renters don’t have a garden, nor access to one, so parks become the only space where they can enjoy such things. Growing paternalism alters that fact.

Experiences older generations took for granted become non-existent

Officialdom is playing a major role in exacerbating and entrenching socioeconomic differences between Generation House and Generation Rent. This was particularly noticeable during the first Coronavirus lockdown in 2020, when young adults were castigated for hanging out in parks, with photographs of their sinful selves splashed all over the papers. Far fewer questions were asked about the types of accommodation they were trying to escape. Many would have been in studios or small flats, living on top of flatmates. It’s hard to imagine any politician bringing up millennials and Gen-Zers’ ever-shrinking housing at the Covid inquiry, nor ever stopping to consider this as a problem.

When homeowners (the “know it all” ones) think of the housing crisis, they mostly consider it a minor inconvenience in young people’s lives — something that, with a bit of graft, they will surmount in their 30s. They certainly don’t connect it to BBQs. However trivial it sounds, though, simply being able to host people in your garden is a “rite of passage” for many people. The erosion of this small dream represents countless other unforeseen impacts of the housing crisis. Experiences older generations took for granted become abstract and non-existent.

Off the top of my head, some of these things include: never being able to decorate your living space as you like, because it doesn’t belong to you; not ever building a “community” in your area, as you know you may have to move out — sometimes far away — on the whims of your landlord; having belongings that don’t fit into your accommodation (all your life’s purchases forced into a few rooms or less). An especially irksome “soft impact” of perpetual renting is having to remember multiple addresses when filling in forms, whereas home-owning generations may only ever have to recall one.

Even yesterday whilst washing up in the kitchen — yes, it really does get as trivial as this — I thought to myself about how many hours of my life I spent by the sink. Out of the six rental properties I have lived in as an adult, only one has had a dishwasher. Anecdotally, this seems typical of other renters’ experience. Yes, not having a dishwasher doesn’t seem a big deal; it’s not a “human right” to have one, after all, and not every homeowner does. Many do, though, not least because they have the choice to install them. It means that renters and homeowners often have different material experiences when they come home tired from work, when one can pop everything in the machine and watch TV, whilst the other is stuck with the Fairy Liquid.

My issue with council rules against BBQs isn’t ultimately about the right to cook in the park, but how intergenerational inequality bleeds into so many facets of life that aren’t always perceptible. It’s hard to quantify every small “micro impact” of renting to those who shout “give up Netflix” at young adults wanting their own space. It’s ironic to think that some of this generation grew up listening to the 1964 song “A House Is Not a Home”, which bemoans “I’m not meant to live alone, turn this house into a home”. They could at least have a BBQ …

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