Housing fantasy quashed by culture of entitlement


When I was a child growing up in houses with overgrown gardens and irregular angles and the lingering scents of sandalwood and dahl, the house I longed for in my imaginary adult future was blonde-bricked, double-storied, concrete-paved and white-carpeted, with little white lions manning the gate.

Map of PrestonThis imaginary house would be perfectly clean and 'character'-less, except, of course, for the porcelain cherubs in the tea room. And it would be mine, all mine.

Now I am older, and the concept of renting a room in a concrete mansion in Preston (the manifestation of this baby's dream house) is totally possible, but only if I share the place with six other paying adults, and make sure I never dream of actually owning it. Because it is 2015, I live in Melbourne (the sixth-least affordable city to live in in the world), and I am not a merchant banker.

No concrete plot will ever by mine, I say in tune with the million other people my age who have just assimilated that knowledge.

I never really expected I'd be able to 'choose' where or how I lived. Most people just live where and how they can. But I also never expected that my generation would be the first in Australia to have to shift its understanding of housing (in)security, such that it is possible to imagine a full life of work without retiring in a home of one's own — or without even the prospect of retirement, in the traditional sense.

Grounded as I am in the lucrative industry known as independent publishing, it goes without saying that permanent, secure, or affordable 'housing' is a faraway fantasy for me. And maybe that's okay.

In my ten years of sharehousing, I've lived in all kinds of rooms, schlepping my worldly belongings from one creaky bedroom with wall cracks to the next. Everything I own is in some way disposable, and I accept that at some point I will dispose of it all. I have shared homes with all manner of freaks and geeks, and may well do it til the day I die.

I guess I can say I am lucky that I never sublet a corner of someone's living room to camp inside. But if things get tough, I won't rule it out.

Some of this is about personal values. I don't really believe that profiting from other people's housing insecurity is an ethical way to pay your bills. But some of this is just reality: Melbourne and Sydney are experiencing bonafide housing crises.

Since my work is mainly laptop-based, I can work from anywhere. And so right now I am exploiting this precarity by taking up temporary shelter in my couple friends' new rural homes, crisp and sunny places they have fled to from overpriced and (always) somewhat dodgy urban rentals.

While there is lavender in the garden and puppies and the rumbling beach nearby, the bucolic life is never as settling to me as it should be: I am constantly concerned about the lack of proximity. So that rules out the rural option for me.

It is mildly frustrating to discover that one reason for the 'housing crisis' is that between 50–60 per cent of freestanding homes in the adequately serviced suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne are occupied by couples and singles who are 50+. Who maybe raised their families in their three-bedrooms and stayed long after their children and children's children took up residence in illegal tent cities in Docklands.

I wonder: What do these older couples do with their giant homes? Just store things in them? Are they so used to the middle-class luxuries of dedicated rooms for lounges and suns and rumpuses that they can't imagine living small?

This is culture of thoughtless entitlement, and thoughtless entitlement always leads to vastly inequitable and unsustainable political practices. It is also just a bit heartbreaking for everyone I know who will never be able to raise their children in the neighbourhoods they grew up in.

When I visit my parents in the burbs, with their fully-stocked fridge, cat and carpet, the knowledge that I may never live in a freestanding home of my own doesn't escape me. I've assimilated this knowledge, though, which influences other decisions, like what kind of family is possible for me (none, most likely).

But this knowledge also opens up other ways of living: camping in apartments, for example, but also living autonomous from debt and rigid career models. Maybe living free enough to take risks.

Ellena Savage

Ellena Savage is the editor at The Lifted Brow, commissioning editor at Spook Magazine, and a graduate student in creative writing.

Topic tags: Ellena Savage, housing crisis, Melbourne, Sydney, renting, home ownership



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Existing comments

Your article brought to mind some of the monologues of Sandy Stone. I suspect Barry Humphries uses the character to critique the passing of much that was good about this country. In some ways there is a similarity in that you and Barry realise that certain assumptions we made and certainties we had are no longer valid and we live in a far harder, colder world. I do hope the world will, eventually, be a better place for the likes of my children and you. Sufficient 'accommodation certainty' should be a basic human right in one of the richest countries on earth.
Edward Fido | 05 November 2015

You have ruled out the "rural option" and this is your choice. But you are mobile and not tied to a workplace. You could live where I live, in Wodonga, where houses cost less than half Melbourne prices and you would be living in the middle of a vibrant community of 100,000 which includes Albury. Sure it's not Melbourne but, as I've found, the significant advantages outweigh other considerations. Regional living is not necessarily rural living. W.E.
william edwards | 06 November 2015

Well, when you walk past our house, you might think we fit the picture you paint of a selfish, greedy, thoughtless couple who still want to live in the (one) home they worked for. You wouldn't see that we have never lived in it without sharing its rooms with family members and others who cannot own or even afford to rent their own place. Four people live here - not two or even one. There are also legal restrictions on what we can do with money if we sell. It is not as clear cut as all that. if you want to blame someone, sheet it towards the ones who made the decisions that allowed homes to become 'investment properties'.
Pauline Small | 06 November 2015

I don`t think it is fair to blame people for hanging on to their houses, which are their store of accumulated wealth. That is not so much entitlement as recognising how things have worked in Australia for decades and more. If this "legacy' way of doing things no longer works to the common good then it can be changed, and it your generation Ellena that needs the political engagement to do that. There could be a progressive "land tax" with reversed mortgage avialbility, progressive death duties, and limits to negative gearing for wealth creation on the tax payer. All this is quite feasible and together with the ageing and dying of the population would sort it out.
Eugene | 06 November 2015

as a "baby boomer", born in 1948, and working class, I never imagined that I could own a car or a home. these things became possible through a healthy economy and hard work. I bought my home in my 40's, and intend to stay here until I die, or go into a nursing home. if the latter, the sale of my home will pay for that. my generation did not think it was entitled, but it is a shock to find such venom directed at us by the current younger generation. even our longer life span seems to be viewed as us continuing to take up space. we should have the decency to get out of the way, it seems. sorry, I have worked hard, I love my home and my garden, and I deserve it.
Helen Kane | 06 November 2015

Ellena, I'm sure your parents would love to share their home,"fully- stocked fridge, cat and carpet" with you. They probably wouldn't even charge you rent.
Clare | 06 November 2015

As a baby boomer I am getting very grumpy about this 'sense of entitlement' by many of my generation. Sick of the' we worked hard' 'we paid taxes' 'we deserve..' comments. We were able to, our children also work hard, pay taxes. Get rid of the rose tinted glasses and 'they are now out to get us' mentality and realise it is time for a rethink where we now are. We live longer and many of us have so many options so let's use them and move over or out.
Pat | 06 November 2015

Interesting, but a little unfair on the hard working baby boomers who worked hard to raise their families and pay off their homes. Nothing is black and white and perhaps this writer needs to stop blaming everyone else and maybe think of somewhere rural to buy a home. The middle aged couples with the stocked fridges are not responsible for the exorbitant cost of rental properties.
Angela Doyle | 06 November 2015

Maybe I am just a "grumpy old man"( I am 66 years "young" with a wife and 3 kids, one still at home.) My house is not a "Mac mansion" - I absolutely hate them! We have spent many years paying the mortgage , raising our kids and doing what most "baby boomers" did-work very hard! Sadly the problem is not us. It is the speculators and so called investors who are "negatively gearing" who send metro house prices through the proverbial roof! The need to live in the big cities for work purposes does not help ease the pressure ! I wonder where the idea of "decentralization" , current in the 50's and 60's of last century went? I live in Canberra .I would not live in Sydney or Melbourne for all the tea in China ! The answer is if possible is to relocate - modern technology and "working from home" are now in our reach.
Gavin | 06 November 2015

To me this article borders on ageism. I think it’s unjustified to call people entitled, because they want to live in a home they’ve probably worked most of their life to pay off. My writing/living-out-of-suitcases/traveling life is thanks to two baby boomers who worked their whole lives and live in a three bedroom home. They had to move out of the city they were raised in (San Francisco) to rear their family and moved back when they could afford it. I hope they never sell the home they worked so hard for, even if I can't have one too. For those of us who have been through the GFC, Australian housing crisis is not about a shortage, but loans being handed out for investment properties and mortgages based on little to no actual capitol and out of portion to the borrowers' income. This then balloons the market. We ignored the signs too, because it's scary to realise your country's economy is a house of cards. It’s easier to blame it on the oldies… until it goes bust. When it does, many young Australians will be glad their parents still own their three bedroom home.
Clare Deignan | 06 November 2015

Hi there Ellena, My sense is that you are naming thoughts which address the atmosphere of anxiety I share. Yet my context is this: my parents have taken on a half-share in our Sydney mortgage. It is heroic of them but also problematic for my siblings miss out and also I find it tricky to be the reason why my Dad can't retire. Hans Kung argues that justification ought not be trumped by social justice concerns. Being trusting in the mystery that Ywh is my ultimate husband helps life to be relished. Jesus his son takes on the anxiety of abandonment. He wrestles with the problems of a vine needing to find light and warm, ferile earth. Woman had been seen as being this "vine in the centre of the household". Now Jesus takes over the work of this key way, life, fruitfulness and truth. Then he includes us in his work by giving us a role of being a branch, of connecting with him and growing towards the light of faith, with the strength of a vital thing sinewy and a host to birds and other creaturely friends.
Louise O'Brien-Jeffree | 06 November 2015

Hi Ellena It appears my wife and I seem to be one of those you see from the street in a big house. In that house lives two families. As parents we had kids at 21 worked hard and still do, sharing our house with children and spouse (in their 30’s) and grandchildren. Whilst also spending a great deal of time supporting our elderly parents in their old age. Our parent’s sacrificed so much to give us better choices and opportunities as we currently do for our children. Be grateful as no doubt your parents have done the same for you.
Walter | 06 November 2015

As a 'boomer' I am sick to death of articles like these. Why shouldn't older people live in homes with gardens which provide oxygen, shade, food and beauty and which moderate the temperature for everyone? Most scrimped and saved for years while bringing up their children without having much in the way of 'stuff'. They will grow old and die and their homes will come on the market and there will be a glut of houses for sale. Yours isn't the only generation to struggle to afford a house. My parents died without every having owned one.
Sue | 06 November 2015

Ellena, I was impressed with your story, and I agree the housing (home) situation is wrong. Housing should not be used as an investment. Young parents are entitled to be able to buy a home to live and raise their children. This is the Australian dream and successive governments have failed dismally to honour this. Although Paul Keating tried and was then overridden. Ellena the new Prime Minister is going to take a very hard look at our taxation system, to improve it and make it fairer. Therefore now is the time to get your story across. Tell him to cut out negative gearing, remove foreign buyers from our homes market, cut out stamp duty (encourages older folk to sell) and remove a lot of red tape from housing development approvals. This is just a starter I am sure you can think of others. Good luck. Ron.
Ron Hill | 06 November 2015

This article is limited in that it doesn't address negative gearing and foreign investment as prime reasons why people now find home ownership unaffordable. It is also potentially divisive in suggesting that people over 50 cling to so-called 'entitlements', Have you considered that with couples now starting families later in life it is quite feasible for people over 50 to still have children/young adults living at home? I also doubt that your generation Ellena is the first to find they are renters, I know many people in their fifties who rent the homes they live in,
Ellen O'Brien | 06 November 2015

I got what I longed for, a house that I could call home with a certain intimacy and family feel so my future children would feel cosy and safe with their dolls and prams. So it can be reckoned that I did not marry a brick or a tiled man but I did find a man who had a bank account.
Len Heggarty | 06 November 2015

Ellena, I take offence to your article accusing me of being one of the reasons for the "housing crisis". My husband and I bought our very modest home, with a backyard, 40 years ago. In that time we made small improvements in order to keep the house in good nick. It took 17 years before we could afford to have the bathroom renovated and a toilet put inside! It took another 18 years before we were able to afford some very modest renovations, of which my husband got to enjoy for 13 months before dying of cancer. And now you want me to move out of my home - not house - so that young couples can enjoy what I took 40 years to achieve. The government wants old people to stay in their homes as it is cheaper to maintain them there, but you want us to move out, miles away from easy access to various facilities. I can access shopping centres, medical facilities easily, I am within walking distance or can use public transport. I think after working hard for 40 years, I should be able to enjoy the fruits of my labour in my final years!
Muriel | 06 November 2015

Maybe your parents took the rural option for exactly the same reasons - the unaffordabilty of housing that suited their artistic and musical ambitions. They might have sacrificed proximity and networking to be able to bring up a family in a sane and affordable fashion.
Boomer 51 | 07 November 2015

Ellena, rather than accusing the 50-60 year olds of having a sense of entitlement, perhaps you should look more closely at you own age group. By what right is any person entitled to bring their families up in the suburb where they grew up?
Gerald Lanigan | 09 November 2015

I am definitely a baby boomer and affluent but no longer live in the burbs. Ellena you are right but unfortunately (as can be seen from the myriad of negative responses) the baby boomers just don't get it. There is a huge divide between the haves and have nots and the baby boomers are largely the haves. Unfortunately haves (and I am one) don't like giving up what they have. Growing social inequality is a huge problem for society..
Peter Anderson | 09 November 2015

Peter Andreson, I may suggest that the baby boomers are not the only sub-group of the human species that object to giving up what they have. This is especially so if they worked hard for what they have. If you feel uncomfortable with the amount of material wealth that you have, then you are perfectly free to go and give as much of it away to whatever individuals or groups you deem more in need of it than yourself. IMHO you also make a mistake when you look at the disparity between the haves and the have-nots. It is misleading to look at the difference between the wealthiest and the poorest. Rather you should look at what the have-nots actually do have. The poorest in the Western world have a degree of material comfort that the kings and queens of a century ago could barely have dreamed of. If what the have-nots of the Western world is actually sufficient for their well-being, i.e food on the table, clothes on their backs and a roof over their head, then I don’t think that they have a lot to complain about.
Niki Leyland | 09 November 2015

Many fifty year olds still have children at primary school, Ellena!
Penelope | 11 November 2015

Ellena, I not only empathise with you, yet I encourage you to find value that your parents didn't have and extract that. I may not buy a house for 80k and get a 1.5 million dollar free lunch, however I do have technology. I am an expert on 5 million topics, and I store value in knowing how the world works. The boomer generation are content to have played a decent hand with property, many are religious, and love being in control. Not many know how money is created yet think they are financial experts because they own homes that are worth much money. I would rather have knowledge and with that knowledge I conjure understanding and solutions. We have one earth, one people, one mind, one conscience.
Kyo | 02 January 2016


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