Counting The Cost Of Homes, Morals And Culture

Counting The Cost Of Homes, Morals And Culture

London is arguably one of the greatest cities on the planet. It has earned its position back on the podium over the past twenty years, however the state of the housing market makes me question whether it really is that great anymore. Can a city be truly trendy, liberal and exciting if it continually only caters for its wealthiest inhabitants? My gut instinct is it can’t.

The excitement of London – Theatreland, the club, music and art scenes and a host of amazing eateries are continually becoming out-of-reach for the ordinary Londoner (as I point out in one of my own restaurant reviews). Websites and blogs like this very one are now havens for those of us who have to pick and choose why and when we venture out of our overpriced shared houses.

Buying a house in London is near on impossible for many of us. Much has been said and written about this topic over the past few years but sadly not much has been done to combat the housing crisis facing both London and the UK. Affordable housing in London is nothing but a dream for many today – as is owning a property.

I use myself as an example. I’m a 30 year-old University graduate who has been gainfully employed since living University in 2005. However, my London based wage is not enough to cover rent in most properties, let alone consider buying a house on my own – especially if I also want to enjoy my free time by going out once a week, having a holiday each year and still having a little left to put aside. Owning a house, getting married and having children – three basic aspirations for most people – seems like a pipe dream. However, imagine my surprise when I was watching Channel 4’s recent ‘How Rich Are You?’ to discover I am in the top 50% of earners in the UK. If this is true then I can’t even begin to imagine how those in the bottom 25% manage to make ends meet each month. It leaves me embarrassed to moan about my own financial woes.

To stand a realistic chance of buying a house I moved overseas for three years. Don’t get me wrong, it’s been an amazing experience and, despite being away from friends and family, I’m honoured to have had such an opportunity. Sadly not everyone does.

London has become a playground for the rich (which, in my opinion, is reason enough to kick it off the greatest city list) who are expanding beyond their traditional haunts, such as Kensington, Chelsea, Hampstead and Highgate.

Let’s take the example of the New Era Housing Estate in Hoxton. This story has received a lot of publicity over recent weeks but first came to my attention through Russell Brand’s Youtube channel, The Trews.

(A quick side note. Sadly too much attention has been paid to Brand rather than the problems at hand. I am sure this annoys Brand as much as it does me – journalists have used the cheap story of Brand’s celebrity to draw focus away from the issues he is raising; an easy ploy to suit their agenda, but only helps to prove Brand’s overall point).

US investment group Westbrook Partners, who were part of a consortium that included the country’s richest MP Richard Benyon, recently purchased the New Era Estate. The consortium wished to turn the site into luxury homes, meaning a massive rent hike – far beyond the reach of the current tenants; 93 low-income families, most of whom have lived in the area their entire lives. The residents began a campaign to save their homes, with Brand joining the fight. Since this news story first broke Benyon and his company have pulled out, but the people of the New Era Estate will continue their campaign to secure their futures.

I urge you all to read more about this particular battle and the many others like it from across our city and offer your support. It’s for the good of London. The reasons to do so are many.

Firstly, and most importantly, what is happening is wrong. People’s lives are being ruined across the city by greed. Those born, raised and have their entire lives centred in London should not be priced out. As Londoners we need to pay more attention to the events going on around us, support causes and guarantee leaders are held to account. It’s our responsibility to demand affordable housing available to everyone.

As one of the New Era Estate residents said “We are all for progress, but not at the expense of people’s lives”.  Living in London is not a privilege for the rich, but for all.

Secondly, an angle that relates to the ideals of this website.

London has become the city we love because of its character and what it has to offer the many. Diversity has inspired the city, from the nightlife, the arts and cultural events such as the Notting Hill Carnival. The mix of people, from the rich to the poor, of all ethnicities, cultures, religions and nationalities has moulded this amazing place. London has been built on a mish-mash of communities and its art, music and culinary scenes have thrived as a result. This is slowly being picked away.

The very subjects that this website covers and the reviews that we gleam from across the city highlight the choices that London boasts, but slowly, as the creative minds are pushed out (even the BBC has been forced to quit the capital in part due to costs – surely that must have set off some alarm bells) we will lose this. The reasons many flock to London will vanish as we are left with generic bars and clubs, a music scene devoid of ingenuity and bland art aimed solely at those with vast amounts of money. The city will go from the vibrant colours that currently resonate from its streets to beige and grey.

London will inevitably become like the most expensive cities in Europe such as Zurich, Munich, Vienna and Geneva who, whilst beautiful, are often ranked as the continent’s most boring. Do we want this for London? I certainly don’t. For the good of each other and the city we call home, we need to ask more of our elected representatives to provide affordable homes and bring down the cost of buying a house, whilst we continue to support causes such as the New Era Estate’s.

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Martin Rix