I’m not enjoying anything much at the moment. Like Emily from one of my favourite blogs My Shitty Twenties, I am trying to find a new place to live at the moment. I’ve lived in this flat for five years now, my daughter’s dad and I moved here in order to start our postgraduate degrees. It is a perfectly lovely flat for two students, really close to the university, but not in the popular student area, so comparably cheap.
Even now my daughter is two years old, our flat ticks many boxes which I find important when it comes to house-hunting: we have our own front door, the rooms are a good size, the windows are double glazed and have really good security features, the central heating system is only about 6 years old, there is a shower over the bath, and lots of built-in storage. There is even a big garden (a dream in this city and with the rent I pay!) with a shed and a washing line.
The kitchen is so small that the fridge only fits in my daughter’s bedroom. And even though the primary school is literally a two minute walk around the corner, it is among the five worst in the country, as is the secondary school it feeds into. The area looks very tidy in general, but it is a former council estate (many residents, like my landlady, have opted to buy their council flat/house), and, although this probably outs me as the snob that I am, most of that mentality still remains.
The night after we moved in five years ago, my daughter’s dad and I were woken by shouting and the sound of furniture being smashed. It was our first experience of the many loud arguments my next-door neighbour likes to engage in when she gets drunk. My downstairs neighbours aren’t much better: during our first year in the flat, their daughter seemed to spend most of her time staring out of the cat flap, and their music is frequently loud enough to shake our floor and make our radiators rattle. When we bump into the nice old people who live in our street, they acknowledge these neighbours’ behaviour (unprompted!), but they just seem resigned to the fact that this is just how life is.
Well, I decided that this is not how I want my life or my daughter’s to be. So last month I made an official noise complaint to the council. The music has stopped, but now we are shouted at for my daughter’s dad’s (ought to find an abbreviation for that really, Ex sounds too final somehow) perfectly normal and reasonable parking. I have stepped up my hitherto half-hearted house-hunting (I do love a good bit of alliteration).
But this is where it gets depressing: as I don’t have a job and my PhD isn’t funded, I receive housing benefit. In my city two out of ten rental properties are meant to be affordable to benefit recipients. My mum has kindly agreed to subsidise my rent, and I will get rid of non-essential outgoings like TV. Just TV really, I have no other outgoings which aren’t food or fixed, like council tax, utilities etc. This week I have arranged viewings for several flats in a much better area, and a dream house which is surprisingly affordable. But it is really difficult to find a landlord willing to consider me. It makes financial sense: I am a single mum on benefits who is also a student. I don’t smoke or have pets though, so I have some redeeming features. It is probably too risky. But I have always paid my rent on time because that is just how I was brought up. Sadly, however much I despise my awful neighbours, the only thing which distinguishes me from them is that I think I’m better than them, and I’m just as stuck here and in life as they are.
I could get a job, and if I worked over 16 hours per week I might even get some tax credits towards the nursery fees, but that would mean putting my daughter in nursery for whole days and it would also make the struggle for PhD time even more difficult.
The result of all this is that I feel powerless and like a child: I receive money from different sources, but none of it is earned through my skills or work. This means that I am stuck in a bad area with bad neighbours. Changing this would mean compromising my parenting and my long-term future.
So that’s it really, I’m stuck. (Story of my life!)