Renting as Temporary Accommodation? The Lived Experience of Housing Precarity in East London

I’ve lost count of how many times I moved since I started renting within London. This cheese plant is the only possession that stayed with me all the way. Even though is quite inconvenient to move it around, it symbolises home and a partial sense of stability to me. I stubbornly carry it with me. I guess it’s my transitional object. Moreover, I like the idea that it is alive. It takes time for it to adapt to new places but it always finds a ray of light to keep growing. We want to get rooted and thrive too!

Temporary accommodation is often referred to as a provisional solution to people at risk of homelessness or lacking secure housing due to emergency circumstances. However, our research findings and lived experiences as young private renters strongly suggest that renting in East London feels a lot like living in ‘temporary accommodation’.

Research we carried out in East London found that young people in the private rented sector move around constantly. Most of our respondents moved between two and five times in a period of five years, and they did so primarily due to reasons outside their control. The frequency and unpredictability of moving make private renting a temporary – rather than a temporal – experience for young people. This temporariness generates significant distress and puts young people at risk of homelessness.

This is especially problematic if we consider that, for young people, renting is the most common way of accessing housing. Housing precarity affects young people’s ability to improve or consolidate their housing situation. Put simply, young renters struggle to ‘settle down’ and have a ‘home’. This, coupled with their financial precarity, result in significant psychosocial problems (housing anxiety, feelings of social inadequacy, difficulties to feel and be part of a community, hopelessness about their future and capacity to have a family, etc.).

We believe that this association – private renting as temporary accommodation – offers a compelling image of what it means to be a young private renter in East London today. Firstly, it could help young people to reflect on the realities of renting in London and consider its particular risks beforehand. Moreover, it could contribute to seeing renting precarity as a systematic problem to be addressed through policy interventions, rather than the product of unfortunate personal circumstances. Secondly, it offers policymakers and the public a good analogy of how unstable and precarious renting has become for young people (including students, non-students and young families). Finally, it could help to draw greater attention to the issues associated with housing precarity and of the need for safer and more secure renting.

Seeing through the lens of temporary accommodation allows us to visualise the precarious situation young private renters find themselves in nowadays. It offers new perspectives on private renting and complicates notions of renting as a convenient, transitional and temporal stage prior to homeownership. For most young renters, private renting is not viewed as a step towards homeownership, but it is rather seen as an obstacle towards thriving in a city where they come in search of professional and educational opportunities. Our research adds to the evidence that ‘Generation Rent’ – as well as society as a whole – would stand to benefit from a better regulated and safe private rented sector.

Extract from an article written by young private renters about the impact of the temporary nature of private renting has on their lives. Read more about the project here.