Boats and empty offices: alternative living in London
by NIELS DROST
LONDON – Living in London has always been quite costly, but due to the ongoing housing crisis, it gets more and more expensive to buy housing in the British capital.
The high prices make that people tend to find alternative ways of living, some of them to the extreme. Last summer, housing enforcement officers found 26 people sharing a 3-bedroom family home in eastern London
Lowe Cost Living
However, not everybody goes for such extreme ways.
As an experiment, Tim Lowe (27) tried to find alternative ways of living affordably in London for half a year. Every four weeks he moved around, living on a budget of $750 a month.
“The whole idea was to explore what existed for people like myself and what was important to me in that,” says Tim. “So I started in an empty office building as a property guardian, where you basically live as a security service.”
He then rented a house boat for 4 weeks in Hackney. “That was really cool. I’m actually thinking about buying a boat now since I’m renting and throwing money away.” At last he ended his project living in a horse carry-on.
The conclusion of his project was that the options he tried were not really long term solutions. “But ultimately, if you want to go and live somewhere and rent cheaply, it’s possible,” Tim says.
– Where the median price for property in England and Wales is $281,966, a house in London costs $761,742 on average.
– The prices rise at a higher pace in the capital as well. In London the pricing of housing rises with 10% annually on average, where in England and Wales the pricing rises with 5% annually on average.
– To keep up with the need for housing, the Mayor of London aims to deliver 42,000 new homes every year, but fails to rise over 25,000
Struggles on the canals
With more people living on the water, the canals themselves tend to become busier. Right now there are 3255 boats on the London waterways, which is 52% more than five years ago. Not everybody is happy with that.
“It is slowly getting worse and worse. There are many boats now, the canals are getting crammed,” says Gerard (26). He lives on a narrowboat in London and makes a living by building and fixing such boats. At the moment he is working on a boat at Regents Canal.
“The problem of house pricing is affecting the canals now. Many people are just moving into boats while they have nothing with it – they don’t even know anything about it. They do not respect the normal rules of the boating community either,” he says.
People don’t understand it, according to Gerard. “They think it is cool and you don’t pay any rent. But there’s a lot of hidden costs. Licenses, lifting it out of the water and putting it back in ($750), blacking it every two years… You don’t pay money for the maintenance straight away, but you will need to save it, because you will need to use it for sure.”
Living on the canals
Not an easy life
“When you get home and the electricity doesn’t work, or when you’re having a shower and run out of water – you’ll need to go two miles to fill it up. Not everybody is up for it: it’s a style of life. Not really an option for cheap living in London: it’s the bad perception people have,” Gerard argues.
This is what the Canal & River Trust, a charity entrusted to take care of England and Wales’ waterways, says as well. “Boating is a completely different life and one that doesn’t suit everybody. Our advice is that you should only live on a boat if you love the lifestyle, not because you think it will save you money.”
Pressure on the system
These rising number of boaters in the capital creates an increasing pressure on London’s waterways. “There’s a lack of mooring space and facilities are struggling – they were never designed to deal with this many boats,” the Trust says.
“We’re trying to create more residential moorings without losing ‘casual’ towpath mooring space used by cruising boats. While it’s important to appreciate that getting to facilities provided by both the Trust and third parties can require time and effort, and something that is part of day-to-day boating life, we’re doing our best to provide more where we can.”