Over 50s are being forced to take in younger lodgers in order to combat the London housing crisis. We investigate the extent to which elderly renters are going in order to keep up with London’s rocketing prices.
Words: Megan Townsend, Hayley Warren, Bea Renshaw & Tessa Ross, Subeditor: Bea Renshaw
Flat sharing. Two words which are definitive in your university and young professional years, but in your later years? Not so much. Due to the current housing crisis in London, buying a property is off the cards for most. This only looks to get worse, as David Cameron has sworn to scrap legal requirements for developers to build affordable housing.
Even the most financially secure are being forced to look into flat sharing in order to manage with living expenses in the city. Some of the most extreme examples of those attempting to manoeuvre the expensive London lifestyle, involve crafty students commuting by plane to university from Poland everyday. The extremes even show a London flat with a shower under the bed for £520 a month.
In reality the crisis is affecting everyone. In recent figures from SpareRoom.co.uk, one in eight prospective renters are over 40 years old. With potential flats in the city being snapped up sometimes within minutes of being posted online, more and more elderly people are opening their doors to younger renters.
Gordon Nelson, 70, is a Londoner based in Brixton. In order to afford the rent on his flat, he has been forced to sublet, advertising his spare room online. “I’ve been very lucky; I had one chap here for three years, he was very good company. And I had a lovely Italian girl stay for nearly a year.”
“I don’t like the landlord being able to choose [who I live with], I prefer to choose who I will share the flat with myself. I’ve had 137 replies to my ad on SpareRoom.co.uk, and I’m really just keen to make sure that the person who comes is happy as well.”
Websites such as Easyroomate.com and SpareRoom.co.uk, who normally cater to students and young people, have seen an increase in elderly tenants willing to share with people half, or even a third of their age.
We spoke to Matt Hutchinson, director of flat and house share site SpareRoom.co.uk, he says: “Whether we like it or not, we’re being forced to rethink our aspirations of homeownership as Britain moves towards becoming a nation of renters”.
He comments that this is particularly evident in the capital; “in London, flat sharing well into your thirties and forties is now common. And it has to change, because property prices here are already out of reach for many first-time buyers”.
The crisis has been a topic of debate recently with new movement “momentum” created, in response to anger around the lack of housing available to people in London and the UK as a whole. The issue has sparked debate and uproar within the House of Commons, with mass protest on the streets. However, elderly renters with spare bedrooms are seeing this issue in a positive light.
Figures above from SpareRoom.co.uk on their current renting figures, show the increase in the age range of their users between 2009 and 2014, which have risen alongside property prices since the financial crisis.
However, in the over 40s age group the figures seem to indicate a sharp rise, with 45-54 year olds having risen by 300%, 55-64 year olds by 343%. The biggest increase is the 65+ age range, with six times the amount of elderly people looking into flat sharing, with a percentage increase of 612%.
Matt Hutchinson comments on the figures, he says: “Increasingly, we’re seeing older renters opt for house and flat shares over renting solo in one bed flats. That means they can save a deposit faster, or be able to afford to live in a nicer area, but there are social benefits too. Living with flatmates beats a night in on your own in front of the telly”.
Neil, 61, has been taking in lodgers for the last 25 years. As a professional in London, he has chosen to take in housemates in order to pay the bills. “Maybe it’s a sign of the times, people just can’t afford to buy [in London] anymore. And I think it’s just going to get more and more like that.”
He talks to Voice of London about his motivations in the interview below:
With the London housing situation showing no signs of improvement, the older generation have been forward thinking in their positive approach, reaping both the financial and social benefits. They are demonstrating that there is no shame in sharing. and if anything, it is bringing different types of people together.