Capital Feeling

High rents in London are likely to drive millennials out, but the city's emotional pull is strong

Frankie McCoy

Whether you read this before or after the London mayoral election on May 5; and whether it’s Old Etonian Zac Goldsmith, or “son of a bus driver” Sadiq Khan who takes City Hall, there will still be a seemingly insoluble crisis looming: London housing. Solving this was foremost in both their campaigns; and both have declared that they will ensure Londoners get “first dibs” on new homes. 

Which would be wonderful if a 22-year-old like me had the £25,000 or so needed to secure a 5 per cent deposit on the average London property. We under-thirties — the millennials that make up “Generation Rent” — have accepted that we’ll be renting for as long as we choose to exist in London.

A pity, then, that renting is unsustainable. Financial authorities advise against spending more than 30 per cent of your income on rent. Of my £1,550 post-tax monthly salary, I pay out £825 per month for my shared flat — bills and council tax not included. That is 53 per cent for a cupboard in Brixton, with no double-glazing, no proper locks — nor, ironically, cupboards.

Government figures show that rents in the capital have risen 19 per cent in the past five years: less than some other cities such as New York, to be sure — but London rents will only increase, probably exponentially. When my contract ends and the time comes to investigate the few water-warped and irresponsibly-converted flats on the market, whichever armpit of Satan into which I am ultimately forced will almost certainly cost a good deal more.

George Osborne’s attempts to butter up millennial voters have failed: taxing buy-to-let landlords simply abandons renters to shoulder the increased costs. And should current landlords decide it’s not worth the hassle and decide to sell — well, whoever wins the mayoral race, I doubt that either Sadiq or Zac will seriously try to prevent commercial landlords or foreign investors snapping up off-plan any desirable new-builds that are going.

Thus many predict an exodus of millennials. Bristol, Portsmouth, Manchester — all have been touted as the New Capital. Even those who still choose to work in London would rather have the luxury of living out of it: friends renting in Reading earn the same but bask in comparative splendour, content with an hour’s commute for twice the living space and the possibility of one day buying a flat nearby. Granted, they can’t Uber home at 4 a.m. for under £20, but then we’re supposedly also Generation Sensible anyway.

And yet — maybe it’s because I’m a Londoner but I still love London town. Yes, post-Brussels, it’s ever more dangerous; yes, it’s hideously polluted and crowded; and God knows, it’s untenably expensive. But it’s London. It’s my home, and the place I will always love more than anywhere else in the world. When I just walk around, the streets seem paved with limitless possibility. Anything and anyone can happen and probably will. Maybe it won’t be good — maybe it’ll be terrible — but whatever happens in London, it won’t be boring. And that’s what makes this ridiculous, frustrating mess of a city impossible to abandon.

An autumn note

“For many, the end of this uneasy year cannot come quickly enough”

An ordinary killing

Ian Cobain’s book uses the killing of Millar McAllister to paint a meticulous portrait of the Troubles

Greater—not wiser

John Mullan elucidates the genius of Charles Dickens
Search