Crossing the threshold

I have lived in rental properties all my life – for the entirety of my childhood, and for the seventeen years of my *officially* adult life. Before we moved to the Netherlands, MR suggested that we buy, rather than rent, a house. It took me awhile to come round to the idea, foreign as it is, but we are now looking for our own home.

On arrival we were ignorant to the state of housing here. We have since learned that houses are, comparative to London, somewhat reasonably priced and in decent condition, and that one hundred percent mortgages and home-owner tax benefits are available. Breezy, no?

Poster by Ruben Pater

We have also discovered that the demand for housing far outweighs the supply. I don’t know the exact details, but I believe the crisis emerged loosely around 2015 as a result of a parliamentary pause on building to minimise environmental impact. Particularly in the Randstad, this has resulted in 8-12% over-bidding as the norm and property values literally doubling since 2015 – check any address on the government’s value register. Skyrocketing prices in Amsterdam have compounded, in part, due to the rise in foreign investment and the doubling of tourists per year from four to eight million between 2004 and 2017 (read more).

Poster by Ruben Pater

Contextual complexities aside, the present possibility to own our own home feels life-changing for me. I was raised by a single mother on a receptionist’s wage, although her parents – who were generous with us in care and finances – were comfortable. This goes some way in explaining the conflict between my middle class values and my working class psyche. But, as Eula Biss points out, defining class is a tricky task.

I don’t know what defines a working-class life. Is it the way you live, or the amount of money you make, or the nature of your work?

Eula Biss in Having and Being Had, pg 65

The term middle class is used so widely, and so roughly, that its precise meaning is usually unclear—it might refer to a lifestyle, value system, a mindset, or an economic bracket.

Eula Biss in Having and Being Had, pg 285

I have always expected that I would eventually own my own home but this was an intention not an entitlement, a strategic ambition rather than a natural progression. To me, home ownership represents the ability to control the parameters of my own life (acknowledging that the bank has a diminishing share).

I belong here. I am not temporary, I am not passing through.
I am irrevocably autonomous.

Not long ago, around elections, I could not help but roll my eyes at the vox pop response from one member of the public, ‘Why should I pay higher taxes? I’ve worked hard to get where I am’. Everyone works hard, mate. I’ve held a job consistently since I was fourteen and nine months, the legal working age in Australia. Without support, I paid for my first car, my bachelor education, my living expenses since I left home at 20, and my master education as an international student. But I don’t ‘deserve’ to own property any more than anyone else, I’m just fortunate that my hard work has led to improved living conditions. Which is not the case for everyone.

I wasn’t particularly liquid, but I didn’t have to worry about my mortgage as long as I kept my job. I was highly aware, in those first few years, of my comfort. And I was uncomfortable with that comfort. I knew from past experience that that the discomfort would fade and that my extraordinary new life would become ordinary with time. To stave off that loss, I kept a diary in which I recorded moments of discomfort from my life, usually moments when I was enjoying some kind of comfort or pleasure. I wanted to hold on to the discomfort and I wanted to hold on to the comfort, too. This book is what came of that contradiction.

Eula Biss in Having and Being Had, pg 280

I hope that this reality does not fade as new privileges wear in, as we pass the threshold from tenant to owner.