Hae ye ever walked up an tried tae open a door in yer hoose, an found that the handle’s on the ither side tae the wan ye reached for? Or did ye ever forget whaur the licht switch is in the lavvy when ye wake up burstin for a pee? Naw? Dae ye umm an ahh when somebody asks, as they often dae, say, in a shop, “whits yer postcode?”
Hoo aboot yer cutlery? Dae ye aye mind whit particular drawer in the scullery ye keep it in? I dinnae. Noo bein in ma fifties, ye micht think this is jist doon tae the kind o doited forgetfulness that normally accompanies the agein process. I ken ma bairns dae -“Yer gettin worse ya dozy auld goat” An they’re no faur wrang, but they’re no richt either ’cause thir are problems onybody wad struggle wi if, like us, ye’d had five different addresses in the same nummer o years. Ye see, jist like thoosans o ither faimilies, me an mine noo live at the no sae tender mercies ae whits loftily referred tae as the Private Rented Housing Sector.
Nearly 5 years hae passed since thon unforgettable (tho Goad kens A’ve tried) day, at the worst ae the recession,when we were left wi nae ither option but tae gie up oor hoose.
Noo while nae mansion, it wis oor hame. A modest 3 bed semi wi a conservatory we loved tae breakfast in at weekends. I’ve wrocht in the buildin gemme aw ma days so I’d built raised deckin oot the back for simmer barbecues an faimly get-thegithers. I’d landscaped the back gairden wi a bonny circle patio an windin paths doon tae ma shed an greenhoose. Nae airs or graces but we’d got tae the pynt whaur nae mair did we lang for oor foreign holidays tae never end, for we kent we’d be comin back tae the place we loved, that we’d worked sae hard at makin oor hame.
Forgie me for dwellin, but see noo, it’s as if aw that never happened. No efter the endurance ae the last few years. An that’s whit I want tae talk aboot. When it happened, we first spoke tae the cooncil, but they wernae able tae help us much. Budget cuts, depleted hoosin stock as weel as hunners o cases faur mair pressin than oorsels meant that the best they could offer was B&B for me & ma wife, an a place in a hostel for ma laddie. Afore I go ony further, I ken fine that for a lot o folk, offers like this are a lifeline, somehing that maks the difference atween survivin an gaun unner.
It wis never gonnae dae us tho, an bein fortunate enough still tae be in wark, we managed tae finnd a place we could move intae, at short notice.So, eftir stumpin up the months deposit and the agency fees in advance, sellin maist o oor furniture (for pennies) cos the new place wisnae hauf the size o “oor” hoose, we moved in wi a six month initial lease. Near the end o this period, the young schuilteacher wha owned an was rentin oot the property arranged tae come & “discuss” the lease as is the norm wi a private let. We thocht it wid be a formality o extendin it for anither negotiated length o time but oh how wrang we were. In she came an ye could tell somehing wis up wi the look on her face straight away. “I’m ready to move back in” she said. We’d been telt by neebors that the only reason the place was put up for rent in the first place was she’d fell oot wi her bidie-in an couldnae afford the mortgage on her ain, but this wes the last thing we were expectin. It wis five weeks afore christmas anaw.
In the blink o an ee, we were back tae square wan. While awbdy else we kent wis gettin ready for their festive break, we were trawlin the streets luikin for a roof tae pit ower oor heids. I dinnae hae the words tae convey the despair, at ma age, that overwhelms ye when thats the haun ye’re dealt. It pits the sicht o sae mony puir sowls sleepin rough in a new an frichtsome perspective. Noo I ken there’s guid landlords oot there anaw, but that first experience o oors is onyhing but rare. If ye care tae look, there’s some real horror-stories oot there. Wan hoose we rented aff an ex-polisman wha we had tae tak tae coort when he tried tae skedaddle wi oor deposit!
Anither common problem wi private lets is whit happens when somehing goes wrang? Ye’ve nae Emergency 24 hour helpline scramblin on-call tradesmen when yer wan man landlord’s busy in his Karaoke Bar in Cyprus. Wi nuhing but a mobile phone number, ye jist hae tae hope ye can get a haud ae him. If ye dinnae, when he finally picks up yer anxious veicemail aboot the broken mixertap, it micht tak him a few days tae organise a plumber an ye micht hae tae gan the fortnicht we did athoot ony hot water in the scullery sink
The Private Rented Housing Sector is an amateurish, puirly regulated free-for-aw that disnae, cannae ever foster security and stabeility in yer ain hame. It can never become what wes tint when Thatcher’s richt-tae-buy strippit nearly aw the hooses ye noo see up for rent oot o cooncil hauns an that, tae me, is the mistake we as a society, a community, desperately need tae pit richt.
I ken it sounds baith radical an auldfarrant at the same time, but I believe we need nuhing less than the kinna mass social hoosin programme we seen eftir the Saicont Warld War tae restore the cooncil hoosin stock back tae a pynt whaur it’s better able tae thole an cope like it uised tae. This wad return some muckle-missed pride in local communities and gie the buildin trade a welcome boost anaw… but I’m no shuir the politeicians agree.
Whenever hoosin is mentioned, the talk noo is aw aboot “Affordable Homes”. First time buyers should get grants, they say, tae help them wi deposits. “Help to buy” schemes soond great but are they really? Naebody’s actually said “tae hang wi the effect on hoose prices in general o haundin folk thoosans tae help them buy ane” so A’m assumin that’s taken as read!
Sadly, the reality is that thae hooses’ll never be affordable tae somebody wi nae chance o a mortgage an there’s thoosans o faimlies in exackly that poseition richt noo. A lot o them are mums an dads jugglin twa, sometimes mair jobs each as weel as childcare, schuilruns an awhing else jist tae stey on tap o rent levels that are already mair than the mortgage repayments, an are noo on the rise. How are they supposed tae save up for a deposit when they’ve tae haun ower sae much already tae whaever the hoose really belangs tae jist tae get by? Are we, as a society really happy haein created a situation whaur the already comfortable can sit back and watch their property investments mature ‘cause sae mony are left wi nae choice but tae throw their money at a hoose that’ll never be their hame? In a ceivilised society, dae we no aw deserve a hame tae caw oor ain?
Derrick McGuire is an ordinary workin man wha’d like tae gie his faimily a better hame.