If my childhood been renting in the way that many families today are forced to, the added stresses and strains would have taken their toll on my mother's inventivenessby Hephzibah Anderson / August 31, 2019 / Leave a comment
The ascending lines on the wall, dated and initialled; the tiny scar from the toddler tumble on the patio outside; the muscle memory that lets you skip the squeaky third stair from the top late at night. They’re unsung in interior design magazines but these are the kinds of details that truly make a house a home. They accrete over time, as residence and residents imprint themselves upon one another, helping parents to sleep at night and becoming the warp and weft of children’s memories. But for a large and growing number, these are intimacies that remain unknown thanks to the rise in families forced to rent rather than buy.
The number of tenants with children who rent privately has risen steeply in recent years. The 2006/7 English Housing Survey reported that there were 800,000 families in rented accommodation; by 2016/17, that figure had risen to 1.8 million. As of this year, half of UK babies are now born to renters.
Though legislation has gradually been increasing tenant rights, a rapidly expanded private rental market remains ill-suited as a provider of family homes. Year-long rolling tenancies mean that insecurity is a permanent presence—a landlord could at any moment choose to raise the rent or sell up. With children, an unplanned move can mean not just expense and inconvenience but changes of school and the loss of friends. Meanwhile, six-monthly inspections make parents extra-watchful, unable to let their child choose the colour of their room or even hang a picture. Some landlords refuse to rent to tenants with kids in the first place.
I grew up in rented accommodation in East Anglia in the 1980s. My infancy was spent in an unmodernised farm cottage with neither hot water nor a bathroom, just an outdoor loo permanently occupied by a newt. There was no gas, and electricity came from a generator at the bottom of the garden that worked only between the hours of six and nine each evening. Upstairs, snow would drift in through the roof. We were still living there when the place was condemned.
We were lucky with the next move, renting from the National Trust. I apparently spent the entire tenancy interview saying I wanted to go home, which perhaps struck a plaintive note despite…