How do you solve a problem like Generation Rent?
Trapped in an unaffordable cycle, handing the biggest chunk of your paycheck to unregulated landlords, with no control over where that money goes. Add to that high energy bills from inefficient houses that a landlord won't fork out to improve, high food bills from living individual lives in a shared house – it all contributes to expensive, unsustainable lifestyles that we find it hard to escape.
New, modern communes have sprung out of a millennial need for convenience and companionship, but they're expensive – rooms in London's The Collective Old Oak cost upwards of £230 a week for a glorified student dorm. For those who really want to try something different, though, there are options. Here's how some people are taking sustainable, affordable living into their own hands.
1. Housing co-ops
Housing co-operatives are nothing new. But, says Merrick, who's lived at Xanadu, a co-op in Leeds for the past five years, escalating living costs mean interest in the model is rising again. The house (and mortgage) is owned by a company. Each new resident becomes a director of that company when they move in, and pays their rent (normally low) to the landlord, also the company, which is you. Follow?
"There's no more chasing some fucker who'll palm you off with a quick fix. You've got the landlord you want, and the ethical attitude you want. If you want to fit solar panels and double glazing, you can," he adds.
There is, of course, a bit of work associated with running a housing co-op. But there are a number of co-operative organisations that want to help, whether it's advising on the legal implications, or helping secure funding to buy a house and set one up.
The payoff is enormous, he says. "I know that long after I'm gone this house will be here. It stops people being at the mercy of the banks and of the jobs they hate."
Dot Dot Dot is just one of many guardianship organisations. It offers lower housing costs – it's not a rent, but rather a license fee – in return for a commitment to completing a certain number of volunteering hours, requiring residents to contribute to their local communities. Nicola, a freelance photographer, lives in a five bedroom former-hostel with a garden in Stoke Newington, North East London. She's been able to redecorate – a distant dream for the rest of us lowly renters. "It's like a Pinterest house," she says. "I reckon I'd pay £900 a month for a room like this in this area," she says, "I pay £480."
For Nicola, living in a property guardianship has allowed her to pursue a photography career in a way she never could before. "I would have spent so much time traveling if I wasn't in London. And because my rent's not super super high, I'm not as pressured, I'm not stuck in a 9-5 slog. I can work on my business."
Nicola's bedroom when she moved
in Property guardianships are temporary. Guardians stay in old commercial or public buildings – Nicola used to live in a disused fire station in Belsize Park. "We get a month's notice when we have to leave," Nicola says, "so it probably doesn't suit someone who would worry about that. But I like it, I don't like being tied down."
And after she completed work on it
Plus, the fact that she's always moving has made Nicola more conscious of what she buys. "I don't have as much stuff, I live more minimally. I like that."
3. Skills vs rent
For Ed Sapiera, adding a residential element to his social change start-up seemed a natural step. Newspeak houses isn't focussed so much on solving a housing problem, he says, but by allowing residents to stay in his East London Residents with subsidised living costs, or "half rent", they work together to solve a social one.
Residents, or 'fellows' share skills and ideas and attend events and hackathons. By staying in the building he believes he's freeing up their time and energy to work on his big project – providing technological improvement to government and social institutions
"With a desire to make the world a better place I've settled on a model that I think is unique. The fellows can have a much higher level of engagement without as much energy expenditure," he says.
By removing the need for residents to find, and pay for, accommodation – they can focus on solving the problem.