There is nothing like personal experience to inform your thinking, especially about the issues facing single people in housing need. I have worked in the housing field since 1989, predominately in the supported housing sector, and felt I had a good grasp of the issues facing the people we accommodated.
In 2015, I was faced with the reality of being a ‘person in housing need’ – trying to secure my own accommodation, that I could move into immediately and at a rent I could afford. I was fortunate enough to find places for the first few nights (at a friend’s, the office floor, a night in a Travel Lodge), which gave me more time to find a room in a shared house. What I wasn’t prepared for, however, was how challenging this would be.
To start off with, the costs of renting a room these days have gone through the roof (typical shared room rents are now approaching £650 pm in London), then you have to add in the website fees to even have a hope at seeing a vacancy before it gets snapped up. On the odd occasion I spotted a room that I could actually afford, I had to see it that very day, with others being shown around at the same time, to get a chance of showing an interest. Add in to that the concerns of landlords and other sharers about whether or not they want to live with a 40 something and having to find a weighty deposit as well as rent in advance, I really had my work cut out – a room in a shared house or flat really isn’t accessible or affordable at all.
What I found really surprising, though, was the sense of worthlessness/hopelessness this process instilled in me. There I was, a ‘housing professional’, with all my so-called knowledge and insight of these issues, now facing the very challenges thousands of people in housing need experience very day. My thoughts quickly became irrational; I was becoming emotionally unstable and finding it almost impossible to focus at work.
In the end, I was fortunately offered a temporary room in a colleague’s house and another one linked me up with a local family who took me in and gave me the space I needed to make longer-term plans.
What did I learn? Well, the shared housing market can be ruthless and very expensive, especially if you have no access to savings; it is particularly geared to young professionals. Local authorities and the housing sector cater poorly for people who need immediate, and affordable, accommodation. And the uncertainties that being in this position can bring can quickly lead to a downward spiral of emotional instability and a sense of vulnerability.
This experience has also motivated me to look again at how the housing sector can better respond to people in need of accommodation, quickly and affordably. I’ll be sharing some more thoughts, and perhaps an idea or two, in future posts – please keep reading.