To create more millennial homeowners, government should forget ‘Generation X’

Good luck. Image: Getty.

Do you remember when a Freddo bar cost 10 pence? Brexit was in the same league of minority pursuits as Warhammer, you could get a maintenance grant to help with living costs at university, and a young family could save for a typical mortgage deposit in three years. For the young, it all just about worked.

Today a Freddo bar costs three times that amount. A maintenance grant is now a loan. It takes sixteen years longer for the same family to save enough money to secure a mortgage for the same house. Politics seems to move in a direction opposite to the life trajectories that began during and after the 1980s.

While most goods and services have become quicker and more accessible, the time it takes to save, and then pay, for the same products – a house, an education, a chocolate bar – has slowed and been made more difficult with less assistance from the state. Often they are rented instead.

Your granny’s pension shouldn’t be reduced to fund free university tuition. Neither should government adorn people with baubles because they were born after England won the world cup. Yet government can take a more supportive role in young people’s deposit saving; shortening the time it takes to save for a deposit without deforming the structure of the housing market.

Currently there is a black hole in young people’s deposit savings. Recent research from Localis finds that, of those who do not own their home, only 30 per cent of 25-49 year olds and 21 per cent of 18-24s are saving towards a deposit each month. Whether driven by stagnant wage growth, increased consumption or both, these figures show the vast majority of people are building no financial capacity with which to get a mortgage in the future.

Meagre deposit savings is just one issue holding back young people from buying a home. So do stringent lending criteria and unaffordable house prices.


Yet deposit saving is an issue government can immediately address in the upcoming Budget. The pension auto-enrolment scheme could be tweaked to allow employees aged between 18 and 40 to choose for their contributions, their employer’s and the state’s to be directed towards saving for a mortgage deposit instead.

Following the pension scheme’s initial success – over 6.7m people have been automatically enrolled – the number of young people saving for a deposit would increase significantly. And so would the rate at which they accumulate savings: in the Localis report. we calculate a person on a salary of £30,000 would save the median deposit paid by first-time buyers (£22,000) within 10 years of using the scheme. Supporting young people in this way would do much more to lower the rungs of the housing ladder than cuts in stamp duty reported to be announced next month.

In accepting there is a saving problem that ought to be addressed, government can also set the necessary parameters for its response. A recent Council of Mortgage Lenders report found there is only a “slim chance” someone over the age of forty, who does not already, will own their home. Given the tendency of banks to discriminate against lending to people one or two decades from retirement, the sad reality is government can only do so much for them. Deposit saving is a race against time. This is why auto-enrolment for deposit saving should be capped by age.

In a sense, when it comes to supporting home-ownership, the renters of Generation X should be forgotten. Policy effort and resource would be better spent making the private rental sector safer and more comfortable.

The politics are not pleasant, nor the consequences – but to maintain a home-owning democracy, government must choose to support one generation above the other.

Jack Airey is head of research at the think tank Localis.

 
 
 
 

Vanilla Skybus: George Romero and Pittsburgh’s metro to nowhere

A prototype Skybus on display near Pittsburgh. Image: BongWarrior/Wikimedia Commons.

The late director George A Romero’s films are mainly known for their zombies, an association stretching from his first film, 1968’s Night of the Living Dead, to his last as director, 2009’s Survival of the Dead.

But many of them are also a record of Pittsburgh, the city he lived and worked in, and other locations in the state of Pennsylvania in the late 20th century. Martin (1978), for example, isn’t just a movie about a kid who thinks he’s a vampire: it’s a moving portrayal of the post-industrial decay of the Pittsburgh borough of Braddock.

Though born in New York, Romero studied in Pittsburgh and stayed in the city after graduation, shooting commercials as part of the successful Latent Image agency. It was in collaboration with advertising colleagues that he shot his debut Night of the Living Dead. On both that movie and subsequent films, Romero and his colleagues used their experience and connections from the agency to secure cheap and striking locations around the city and state. 

It’s in Romero’s little-seen second film, 1971’s romantic drama There’s Always Vanilla, that a crucial scene touches on a dead end in the history of urban transport in Steel City.

In the scene Vietnam vet Chris, only recently returned to town after a failed music career, sees his father off on a train platform, after an evening where Chris got his dad stoned and set him up with a stripper. (It was the early 1970s, remember.) An odd little two-carriage metro train pulls up on an elevated concrete platform, Chris’ father rides away on it, and then Chris literally bumps into Lynn, whom he then both gaslights and negs. (It was the ‘70s.) You can see the scene here.

A screenshot from There's Always Vanilla, showing the Skybus through a chain link fence.

If you don’t live in Pittsburgh, you might assume that funny little train, still futuristic forty years on, is just an everyday way of getting around in the exciting New World. Who knows what amazing technology they have over there, right?

In fact, the Transit Expressway Revenue Line, more snappily referred to as the Skybus, not only doesn’t exist today: it hardly existed at all, beyond what we see in that short scene. In the 1960s there were plans to replace Pittsburgh’s street car system with a more up to date urban transit system. The Skybus – driverless, running on rubber tires on an elevated concrete track with power provided with an under rail system – drew enough support from the Port Authority and Federal Government for them to fund a short demonstration track at the Allegheny County Fair, at that point a local institution.

It’s this demonstration track and train that appears in There’s Always Vanilla. Film makers love isolated systems like this, or the UK’s many heritage railways, because they allow for multiple takes and a controlled environment. So it made sense for Romero to use this local curio rather than seek access to an in-use station.


The sequence in Vanilla shows that the Skybus system worked, and as a potential metro system it looks quite striking to this day with its curved windows and distinctive logo. But the proposed system wasn’t popular with everyone, and cost concerns and political wrangling stalled the project – until it was finally rejected in favour of a more conventional steel wheel on steel rail transit system.

The demonstration track was pulled up in 1980, although the small station and platform seen in the movie remains: Romero expert Lawrence Devincentz narrates a photo tour of the building on the blu ray of There’s Always Vanilla.

Vanilla was renamed and barely seen on release, but is now available as part of a boxset of Romero’s early works from Arrow Video, in ridiculously pristine 2K digital transfer. The Skybus is there too, a curio of Pittsburgh history caught on a few short minutes of film. Neglected back then, both seem considerably more interesting now.

‘There’s Always Vanilla’ is available on blu ray as part of Arrow’s ‘George A. Romero: Between Night and Dawn’ box set, and will receive a standalone release later this year.

Mark Clapham used to work in rail regulation, but now writes things like this. He tweets as @markclapham.