No haven in Hackney: census 2011 reveals housing divide

Data shows more people in England and Wales are renting, with London borough having lowest percentage of homeowners

Grace Santos is not surprised the census has exposed Hackney as the place with the lowest percentage of mortgage-free homeowners in England and Wales.

In a nearby estate agent’s window in the east London borough, which has the lowest proportion of residents who own their homes outright, the cheapest one-bedroom flat – a “character property” over a shop – is £190,000 while the cheapest rent is £257 a week.

“Before, you could find a house to buy here very easily, but now it is very expensive,” she said. “Rich people are coming here now because they think it is posh, but it is not posh. I don’t know what young people can do, where they will live.”

The 2011 census reveals a widening divide in the housing market: more people are renting, while the cohort of homeowners is ageing, paying off their mortgages and more likely to own their homes mortgage-free.

For years after moving here Santos, who is almost 77 and originally from Portugal, lived in a privately rented flat with no bathroom. There was an outside toilet, and she could shower at her work in a London hotel.

“When I had cancer for the second time my social worker said I must have a bathroom,” she said. “So now I live in a council flat and I have a bathroom, but it is very expensive to heat, it could cost £400 a month this winter.”

In the park opposite Meynell Crescent, an immaculate curve of mainly owner-occupied Victorian houses, Jennie Wood and Cheryl Smith were counting their blessings. An NHS nurse and midwife, they both rent in a smart block of keyworkers’ flats. It is big enough for them to keep their dogs and neither could ever afford to rent the flats opposite or even buy in the area.

Both accept that if they want to buy they will have to find jobs outside London. “Many of my colleagues are doing that already,” Smith said. “I just don’t understand how anyone can get on to the property ladder in London any longer.”

Helena Reynolds and Daniel West were heading home from the council housing office, with her children Natasha, three, and Ben, four, to West’s one-bedroom flat. They are desperate to move somewhere bigger: their baby was due last Friday.

Living on benefits, they see no possibility of ever being able to rent privately, never mind buy, in Hackney or anywhere in London. All around them they see young but richer people moving in after being priced out of other areas. “If I was ever to try, I’d head for the coast,” West said. “All of London is just ridiculous now.”

Film and TV director Tom Shankland scrambled on to the ladder 10 years ago when he realised he could no longer afford to buy in Stoke Newington where he was living, and instead bought a two-bedroom flat elsewhere in Hackney.

He couldn’t afford it now, or a house, but he loves the area even though he fears for the demise of the mix of people and cultures that attracted him. “It’s a cliche, but really all human life is here.” © 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds

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