Who Am I?
Hi. I'm Chloe. I'm 29 years old, I have a 9-5 office job at a financial advice company, and I rent a flat with my partner. At my age, my parents had been homeowners for eight years. My dad graduated with an English Literature degree from Sheffield University in 1985, got a job as a trainee computer programmer, and a year later he was on the property ladder with my mum, who was training to be a teacher.
I graduated with an English Literature degree from Birmingham University in 2013. Seven years later, I've dutifully clambered up the career ladder and am earning slightly above average for my age group. I live in Sheffield (i.e. not London and the South East), I'm saving what I can into a LISA (the new and improved Help to Buy ISA)... and homeownership still looks like a years-long uphill slog.
Why Write This Book?
Like many private renters (and sadly, unlike many others), I am not on the breadline, and my job is relatively secure. So why complain? Don't I realise you have to make sacrifices to get what you want?
The problem with this argument is that you didn't used to have to choose between sacrificing a decade of your life on the altar of homeownership, or a lifetime of insecurity in the private rented sector. In my parents' day, getting a mortgage within a few years of leaving uni or college was such an inevitable milestone for so many in the Western world that edgy new-wave rock bands were writing songs about how the ease of it all could drive you to existential despair.
In 2020, no-one under the age of 35 finds themselves with 'a beautiful house' and feels compelled to ask themselves: 'How did I get here?'. They know full well how it happened. More often than not, they had help from the Bank of Mum and Dad - either in the form of a gifted deposit, or because they were able to live at home rent-free while they saved.
Of course, people struggled for different reasons in decades past, and many even struggled with housing. It's impossible to broach the housing topic nowadays without inadvertently summoning the puce-faced Four Yorkshiremen brigade, whose favourite pastime is to barge into debates on housing and start blathering about how 'young people today' don't understand what it's like to have real problems. Our parents' generation used to have to get up half an hour before they went to bed and work twenty-nine hours a day down t'mill, and here we are with the bloody cheek to complain about a poxy £20k housing deposit!
But none of this changes the fact that huge swathes of young people earning respectable wages are finding themselves hopelessly priced out of the housing market, with little or no prospect of saving up for a deposit on a home of their own.
That's why I decided to write a book about 'Generation Rent'. I don't inhabit the so-called 'media bubble'; I'm just a twenty-something office worker who is sick of being stuck on a financial treadmill. And while my day job has helped me to gain a deeper appreciation of the mechanics of the mortgage market -- and the wider financial ecosystem that props it up -- the real insights have come via the old-fashioned route: from talking to people. Hundreds of them.
I put out surveys and garnered hundreds of responses. I joined a community activist group. I spoke to economists, politicians, landlords and industry insiders. I even went 'undercover' at a property investors' expo and a landlords' advice conference, and I've attended seminars on everything from evicting tenants to solving homelessness.
But most importantly, I listened to dozens of tenants stuck in the private rented sector. Some better off than me, some about the same, and some worse off.
What Did I Find Out?
At the end of it all, I realised the problem of 'Generation Rent' is not just confined to those without parents in a position to provide a financial leg-up. It threatens everyone -- including those who currently benefit from the status quo -- because the inequality generated by our 'national obsession' with accumulating property wealth makes our economy deeply unstable.
The political tide could turn against homeowners, and the results could be ugly. The reasons why are set out in the book, but for now I'll just say this: If you think homeowners earn all that capital appreciation stored up in their properties, or if you think property wealth is an innocuous force of nature that adds more than it takes away, think again.
Generation Rent is not going to go away, and it's in everyone's best interests to ditch the toxic ideas that have driven four decades of disastrous housing policies.
And to the deniers out there: if you'd rather ignore us, or dismiss us, or ridicule us, that's fine. But you do so at your peril.