Hard-pressed students seek new ways to save on rent

Mark Sutherland steps on to his boat and the hull dips a further few inches in to the water. He pauses, motions towards a hole in the floor where he recently had to remove all of the appliances because of faulty electrics, and laughs: “We had a load of extra costs, as I expected because of the price of the boat.”

The 21-year-old Goldsmiths design student has good reason to smile – he has just moved from his cold, damp, overpriced room in Brockley to a cheap and cheerful houseboat on the Thames.

Maintenance work on the boat Pic: Lars Hamer

Maintenance work on the boat Pic: Lars Hamer

Sutherland is one of thousands of Londoners used to living in poor conditions because of extortionate rents – or at least, he used to be. Now he has joined a new band of enterprising Goldsmiths students who are thinking outside the tiny housing box when it comes to finding accommodation.

Only last week, Eastlondonlines reported on the case of Jonathan Davey who found it cheaper to commute from Poland than to pay for rent in South East London. Davey says he will spend £2100 a year on living costs, opposed to the £7500 NUS estimate it costs a student in London.

“I was paying over £6,000 a year rent for a small cold room,” says Sutherland. “The worst part is I was using an inheritance from my grandparents to pay rent. It was getting to the point where it was almost gone; if I paid another year from it there would be none left. So I decided to do something about it.”

House boat living Pic: Lars Hamer

House boat living Pic: Lars Hamer

Sutherland walks outside and climbs to the top of his houseboat. There is a look of achievement on his face as the crisp autumn sun shines down on him. However, there are some students who don’t have it quite so sweet.

Unable to afford the increase in rent at her old property, Helena (whose name has been changed) was forced to rent a house under illegal circumstances, fitting seven people in a house where the estate agent is only legally allowed to house four. To accommodate the two additional tenants the living room is turned to separate bedrooms and a couple share one room.

“I don’t think many people have a choice but to live in precarious circumstances in London,” Helena, who lives in the living room, says. The housing crisis has clearly taken its toll on Helena whose room other tenants have to pass through to get to their beds. “The situation we have may save me some money but it is by no means ideal. I don’t get very much privacy and it is an issue when people come home late and get up early.”

Helena believes a London rent cap is the answer for people living on limited budgets: “There definitely should be a cap on rent. Prices are rising every year and wages are stagnating, people are being forced from their homes. It’s wrong!”

Unlike Sutherland and Davey she doesn’t think she would be suited to a life on the water or constantly on the move: “It would be too much of a hassle for me, I love to travel but trying to juggle plane journeys and hopping between countries in my final year of university would be too stressful. I love the idea of a house boat but there is too much that requires constant fixing and checking on.”

Sutherland is quick to acknowledge that their ideas are thrifty, but not for everyone. “It’s okay for me because I’m quite good at fixing things,” says Sutherland. “The main thing to take from living on a houseboat is that it will take a year or two to save the money you’d spend on rent.

“It was important for me that I didn’t spend too much on the boat, so I shopped around for ages and found one near Stoke for £13,000. I had to fix it up there for a bit and then sail it to London, but it was definitely worth it for the money I saved.”

With a clear increase in unsuitable living arrangements and drastic measures being taken to avoid the increasing rent in London what can you do to make a difference? If you want to help increase the amount of homes in your area write to your MP here: https://www.writetothem.com/ and sign this petition: https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/introduce-a-rent-cap-in-london.

By Lars Hamer

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