Over in New York, a one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan now costs approximately $3,000 a month. “If I’m already checking off the boxes of what makes a great tenant – I have a full-time job, I make over six figures, I’m single, quiet – and I can’t even afford to live here, then who is the housing market for?” social news producer Thelma Annan asked in a CNBC segment last year. “The finish line keeps moving, and I’m like, what is the purpose of me running the race anymore? At the same time as New York is coming alive, I’m being pushed out.”
In the months since, her question has kept coming back to me: Who is the housing market for? I go to a park in east London brimming with joggers and parents carrying flat whites, and think about the fact that tabloid newspapers used to call the nearby high-rise council estates “Slums in the Sky”. Now they call them “99-year leaseholds with £4K per annum service charges” on flashy property websites. Whose city is this? Right now I am 39-years-old, performing an approximation of adulthood in what feels like limbo. I’m playing at being “grown up”, only it doesn’t feel like play.
So where do we go from here? To begin with, we need to start combating the mythology around home ownership, and revising the kind of language we use to describe it. Instead of saying, “I bought a house,” we should be saying, “X, Y and Z helped me to buy a house.” The more transparent we are when speaking about wealth, the greater the chance of reform. Long-term renters, too, need relief. Relief from being ripped off. Relief in the form of safe homes, fair, fixed rental prices, and reliable landlords.
One of my favourite Captain Beefheart songs is called “My Head Is My Only House Unless It Rains”. It has an infectious guitar refrain, and I’ve always taken the lyrics to heart. This era of physical compression seems, somehow, to have created space for emotional expansion. For many, what seems to be a state of arrested development on a material level has been the catalyst for a psychological revolution. Perhaps that inner flourishing will offer up a new blueprint for living. Perhaps a generation locked out of ownership is learning it cannot be owned.