Recently, I was contacted anonymously by a tenant in their early sixties, desperate to share the horrendous housing problems they are battling. They work for low, or (when work dries up) no income. Reasons too complicated to explain here compel them to accept the reality of working beyond retirement age. They do not own property so must rent a home, and they asked for my advice.
Apart from a debilitating background of persistent poverty, their main problem is caused by one simple over-riding fact: they can’t find anywhere to live. Their landlord is selling their current place and they are now worried about the cost of living alone (they might lose work, and approaching cuts in Housing Benefit mean they will be unable to afford somewhere safe, insulated and close to their remaining social contacts, and family live abroad.)
So why not share a flat, says you. Why not indeed, but it’s not for want of trying. They’ve been looking for months – using all the usual property search sites, even signed up with agencies, albeit reluctantly as they are trying to save money. They’ve placed ads online, while responding swiftly to any flat-share ads within their budget.
But low or ‘reasonably’ priced flats are sought after, and desirable tenants are never older – even less so when they are struggling in insecure employment. Flats go to younger tenants, who must seem more attractive – not like the ‘flat-blocker’ who contacted me. Yes that’s offensive terminology but you can see what the letting agents are thinking: they deal with cruel and inaccurate stereotypes, and see only an aging tenant with impending health needs, including dementia potentially messing up their portfolio.
As for the older and impecunious prospective renter - how do they find a guarantor? Seriously: do they ask their parents (who in any case are long dead.) You think that’s ridiculous? An especially witless letting-agent nonchalantly requested such a guarantee.
This person seems engaged with the world, is erudite, educated, and judging from their message possessing a keen sense of humour. They socialise, enjoy ‘modern’ music, and are healthy. How do you explain this when they arrive and are visibly in their sixties, when all other applicants are in the twenties and thirties?
They are not ready for sheltered housing – neither do they need it. What they require is a home, a comfortable, secure, affordable home, where they can stay a while (having as much as forty years ahead of them still.) They might move across into a care home eventually, but what they need right now is the same as everyone else - a place to live.
I don’t believe they are unique. I think that there must be other people out there: older people in urgent need of flatmates their age, and/or affordable housing, not a grim, lonely garret in distant bedsitland (which is what they’ve been offered so far.)
This might happen to us all eventually, and it’s chilling. I had no idea what to suggest, so my advice is: never grow old. Any better suggestions? Anyone? Hell-ooo?