Rooms to rent

This time last year I was looking for a flat.

I wonder how many readers have been in the same position recently?

I was shocked at how expensive they have become, and how little you get for your money.

I answered an advert in a shop window. It said “Rooms From £65 Per Week”. I spoke to the landlady over the phone who told me that the cheaper rooms were all gone. “We have one room left, the largest, for £85 per week,” she said.

So I went to have a look. The house was nice, although it would involve sharing with strangers. There was a large lounge, a kitchen, two designated cupboards for food and crockery, and the use of half a fridge. There was also a conservatory and a modest sized garden. It was neat and clean, and I could almost imagine living there.

Until I saw the room that is. It was maybe ten foot by twelve foot, with a single bed in it. £85 per week for a room the size of my Mum’s bathroom.

I asked if there was a phone. The landlady scoffed noisily. “We don’t want to supplement your phone bill,” she said. “What do you want it for? Broadband? You’ll just have to get one of those mobile systems.”

I said, “It’s too expensive. In fact it’s way over the top,” and the landlady replied, “Good luck if you’re looking for places around here.”

She meant “in Whitstable” as the town has become increasingly popular of late.

The joke here is that this was an ex-council house. So this is what has become of the Right to Buy policy instituted by the Tories, and continued with such relish by the wealth-infected Labour Party: it has allowed latter day Rachmans to buy up our housing stock, to divide it up into flats and rooms, and to reap a fat profit from what used to be affordable housing.

Studio flat

The next place I looked at was a “studio flat” for £275 per calendar month.

I’d seen a studio flat before, while on holiday in Tenerife, so I was quite optimistic. It had seemed a civilised and comfortable place to live.

Nothing like the nasty little rat-hole that the man from the estate agents showed me. As he took me up the bleak, shared staircase he warned me, “It’s very small.” But he added, “He’s a good landlord.”

I was shocked. It was a box-room, little bigger than the bedroom I had seen earlier, but with a kitchen space squeezed into it. The “kitchen” – that’s far too homely a word for what I was seeing – consisted of a stainless steel sink, an electric water heater, and some Formica work-surfaces.

There was a window which looked out over a car-park, and a walk-in cupboard which housed a toilet and a shower.

And that was it. No more. That’s what £275 a calendar month will get you in Whitstable these days.

It was like being in prison. Living there would make you go insane. There was just enough room for a bed and a TV. You could never have guests or entertain friends. You could never bring a woman home to wine her and dine her. You would inevitably fall deeper and deeper into loneliness and despair.

I think a man could end up committing suicide in a flat like that.

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