Monday, November 21, 2016

Just have to share my astonishment here

This morning over breakfast I read an article in the Canberra Times. When I had finished, I first scrolled up again to make sure that I had not accidentally opened The Onion or, perhaps more likely, its Australian counterpart The Shovel. But no, it was indeed the Canberra Times. Then I thought hard if I had somehow missed that it was 1 April, but again, no such luck.

The article in question?

Housing affordability in Canberra: Renting is the ACT's 'biggest issue'. It argues that rents are so high in Canberra that people cannot save up enough to buy property, which is fair enough, ... using as its only example and case study a 23 year old student to whom, and I cite, "the great Australian dream" (of owning a house) "seems just that - a dream".

Maybe I am just weird, but when I was a 23 year old undergraduate back in Germany I would not have had the money to buy a house either. I lived off a mixture of a small competitive stipend, money earned from teaching assistantships, and my parents topping up the rest. Life was nonetheless good, as the student canteen was cheap and rents reasonable. But if I had started whinging about not being able to buy a house my friends and family would have given me a lot of side-eye, to put it mildly.

I would also argue that at 23 I was not mature enough to take on this responsibility, and I think I would have said so myself, even then. It was a time of learning, of studying, of first figuring out where I want to go with my life.

Which brings up another point. After finishing my studies and doctorate in that town I moved to a different state of the same country; two years later I moved to a different country on the same continent; and nearly one and a half years after that I moved to the other side of the planet. And really something like that was to be expected, given the way the job market in science works. So even if I had been able to afford a house I would not have wanted to buy one until I was settled. Yes, I guess there are some undergrads who study economics or law and then get into a company or public service in their home town, but that cannot be assumed to be a given.

Don't get me wrong, housing is expensive in Canberra. And clearly there must be some up-bidding of prices going on, because looking at quality and size the flats and houses are objectively not worth what they are going for, so the article seems to have got that right. I am forty now, and if we were to describe our fantastic, pie in the sky dream it would be to one day be able to afford a small two bedroom flat with a little courtyard or, if that is impossible, at least a balcony. A house is totally out of the question. This just for context - and note that I am not depressed about it. Billions of people on this planet live happy, productive and fulfilled lives while renting.

But apparently somebody at the newspaper seems to think that the average 23 year old (!) student (!) is expected to be able to buy and own a house. Further, that one's main goal in life, this "great Australian dream", cannot possibly wait until the old age of, I dunno, thirty, but has to achieved before even having finished education. Somebody looked at this article and went, yes, that looks sensible, let's click "publish". I am really, really astonished.

And I am eagerly awaiting to see the next article in the series, "Marriage prospects in Canberra: how a nine year old girl despairs of ever finding Mr Right".

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