How It Feels To Be Priced Out Of Your Hometown

Dani McCarthy

Everyone knows that London is the centre of Britain’s housing crisis but we so rarely stop to think about what the spiralling costs and accompanying gentrification means for those – like me – who have lived here our entire lives. 

As children, my sisters and I would traipse along Walthamstow market, running circles around our mum’s feet. We couldn’t make it more than a few metres before somebody would call her name; we were stuck in a state of constant stop-and-start. 

Mum had worked on a fruit and veg stall there for years. I remember the other sellers always being kind and generous with their time, never not bringing hot tea to cold hands.

It suited her. While I’ve always been shy in social settings, tripping over my words, Mum projects her voice unashamedly. She was able to shout the names and prices of fruit and veg as loudly as sellers twice her tiny size. 

Looking on as house prices rose way above anything I’d ever be able to afford, I realised that some of the paths my life might once have taken were closing off in front of me. 

My dad worked Saturdays as a self-employed electrician, so the day was reserved for Mum and her girls. When the weather was warm, we swapped the bustling market for afternoons in the garden. My sisters and I would lay out towels on the grass, gather our toys and shed our clothes, running wild in our urban Eden.  

Even then, though, I remember thinking that it wouldn’t stay like this forever.

I can’t say exactly when, but at some point during my teenage years, the changes taking place at the centre of London started seeping outwards. With house prices and rents being hiked up in the city centre, people were being pushed further and further out. 

Today, my hometown is entirely different from our days of roaming the market. It’s a place that people want to live. The average price for a home where I grew up almost doubled from 2010 to 2019, from £214,784 to £424,655, reportedly the highest price rise recorded anywhere in London. 

Looking on as house prices rose way above anything I’d ever be able to afford, I realised that some of the paths my life might once have taken were closing off in front of me. 

It was a gradual process. In Walthamstow I saw old buildings being restored and public spaces revived. My hometown was blooming, I was pleased. Excited, even. 

But at the same time, the market sellers moved on. Family-run shops and restaurants closed down, making way for supermarkets and chains. Disused warehouse spaces were transformed into experimental bars and breweries. Old cafés run by people my grandparents had known hung on for a while longer, eventually replaced by coffee shops with novelty names.

The excitement I had felt about our neighbourhood gradually turned to disappointment. Where once I was grateful that the place I loved so much was finally getting the recognition it deserved, my feelings were becoming more conflicted. 

I tried to smile and welcome new people to the neighbourhood, all the while knowing that they were driving up prices and pushing me out. 

I’ll never forget starting my first job in marketing in an office in Farringdon. My manager frowned upon hearing that I grew up in Walthamstow, instantly wanting to discuss knife crime. Two years later, he bought a property very close to my parents’ house. 

My parents’ letterbox became a depository for estate agent ads and, once, a handwritten note from a stranger asking to buy their house. I tried to smile and welcome new people to the neighbourhood, all the while knowing that they were driving up prices and pushing me out. 

Across much of England and Wales, the cost of renting has been going up and up over the last decade. People are spending more of their salaries on rent than ever before; in London this equates to an average 35% of a person’s salary

The financial demands of this when I left home were constant, and I found it increasingly hard to live. With a heavy heart, I moved from one chaotic and unaffordable houseshare to another.

In the end, I had no choice but to move away from home – from the city I grew up in. It dawned on me that I had no chance at forging a life of comfort and stability in a city which, though so familiar to me, prevented me from staying still. 

It’s been six months since I moved out to Brighton on the south coast, where I’m now renting at the age of 26. It hasn’t been easy. This has been a period of grief and repair. But I’m finally still. 

My rent is still expensive. My partner and I pay around £1,000 per month but that gets us a two-bedroom flat, so at least we are no longer sharing a room in a houseshare with two other couples, which is what we were doing in London.

The hardest part has been the distance from my friends and family. Spontaneous nights out are behind us now, our physical distance meaning we have to make plans to see each other weeks, if not months, ahead. Like me, London is mostly where they were raised, and while sometimes they threaten to leave it behind, I think we all hope it could get better. 

There are days when I feel like I’ve been plucked from my bed and set down in the wrong place.

There are days when I feel like I’ve been plucked from my bed and set down in the wrong place. I think of Maya Angelou, when she said “I believe that one can never leave home” and that we carry it under our skin, at the corners of our eyes and “in the gristle of the earlobe”. 

London is where my parents met and had their first date in a late-night restaurant. It’s where I met my best friend and where she broke her arm after we tried running together holding hands. It’s where I had my first kiss, where I went to my first house party.

I will always be from Walthamstow and it will always be part of me. Like growing numbers of people in London and the southeast, the housing crisis has priced me out of my own home. But I’ll carry it with me, as we all do. 

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