It's the midst of the 1980s, possibly 1987, I'm a kid, growing up in London and it's snowing. The council flat I live in is so cold - with heating in only one room, that as a family, we've taken to moving all our mattresses into that one room, just to try make the winter nights easier.
34 years later living in London, and things don't appear to have changed much. Whilst I have moved repeatedly since that winter, I am now living in shared accommodation, the best a public servant can hope for. I've just sustained a second insect bite in three days from an infestation through the tower block, and I'm not happy. I'm not happy, not because of being bitten; nor that because it's a 50's relic with numerous issues besides ants. I'm upset because in nearly 30 years we still haven't got to grips with substandard housing and the effect of that on a person's mental and physical health, sense of wellbeing and security.
"'Cos when you're laid in bed at night watching roaches climb the wall.
If you call your Dad he could stop it all." - Pulp, Common People
I have a view across London from my tower block, down to the Post Office Tower (people call it the BT Tower now, a sign of how we've lost our pride in the establishment of history of public service), across developing London. The thing is, London's not developing for key workers. I often walk past a new development in London and wonder how many Londoners own them, and how many people actually live in them. I don't even bother to think how many key workers own a place there.
Give Us A Break
My family got lucky in the 1980's; we were moved into a lovely three bedroom council house (whilst it might be a distant memory, we used to have them in Britain) with a garden. But now what? We're living in the midst of a housing crisis where to be deemed suitable for affordable housing in London you need a salary of £40,000 or more to be approved for a mortgage. This salary is not possible in my current job role, leaving public sector workers with nowhere to go. Add this recent story to the mix, and I'm even more doubtful I will ever own my own home.
It's not like I'm not trying to find somewhere to live - any spare moment I have between working I'm seldom off the internet searching the options. There's the minefield of the rent world I'm in - the misprinted estate agent ads that go from 'dream home' to 'I would never afford that'; the Gumtree ads that could either mean living with the best of London or the Texas Chainsaw Massacre family; the calls to letting agents that end with 'sorry we don't have anything in that price range' and the agencies who want money upfront just to even view a property.
If even asked friends with a spare room if I can move in. Couchsurfing is fun if you don't have to do it.
I either choose to live somewhere affordable where a shower stands as part of the kitchenette, in the hope that somehow, I might scrape together a deposit for a mortgage in the next few years. Or I pay more rent, have no life, and definitely no hope for saving for that deposit. This is also before I factor in just how quick any decent rooms go in London, something of an issue when you work up to 11 hours a day, four days a week.
The other option is, I could leave London altogether, like a few of my friends have chosen to do. But London is my home. I was born and raised her, my friends are here, my nephew is here, I trained for my profession here. Why should anyone have to leave all that behind just in search of somewhere decent to live? And by decent I mean habitable, not a threat to health - I'm not looking for one of those 'luxury penthouse apartments', I'm looking for a simple home.
The Housing Crisis Is Also a Public Service Crisis, My Challenge
From an economic point it makes no sense - why drive out the people that keep London ticking over? I'm a nurse, drive us out and the housing crisis becomes a public health crisis. The Mayor is supposed to inspire and to weld the power the improve lives. The key issue facing London is the provision of housing for all.
The candidates for London's Mayor need to understand what's happening in their city, and to find solutions born out of experience. So, my challenge to the Mayoral candidates: I challenge you to find me reasonable accommodation within my budget - I don't mean to find a 'theoretical or policy solution', I want you to come with me on my journey and help me find a home.