There are a few different images you can find in the media that perfectly demonstrate what life in Britain looks like in 2015. There's the photo of David Cameron, for example, dressed in a tuxedo and white bowtie calling for "permanent austerity" from a gold lectern at the Lord Mayor's banquet back in 2013. Or there's the guffawing young Conservative clutching a copy of the Telegraph at last month's party conference, a line of thick, yellow egg yolk suspended perfectly off his forehead.
Though not quite as strong a distillation of contemporary British class war as these, if you happened to be on Staines Road in Hounslow yesterday afternoon you might have stumbled across another good example. Over 100 people were lining up in the rain outside an ugly office block in West London, some having spent the night. Why? They were desperate to get first dibs on one of 228 unbuilt "affordable homes" after 2,000 people had registered their interest in advance.
The home sale had been arranged by Galliard Homes, a property developer that claims to be "committed" to helping Londoners "get on the ladder." The company had advertised it heavily in the media and told the press in advance that people would "camp out overnight in sleeping bags and tents." It seemed like a deliberate publicity stunt, which, given the weather, time of year, and the desperation of some of those outside, felt pretty inappropriate.
When we arrived at 2 PM yesterday, a few hours before the sale began, a line of people—some first-time buyers, others investors—were lined up in the rain holding Galliard-branded umbrellas. Those at the front had been waiting for hours facing questions from journalists as the Galliard Homes press officers eagerly retweeted praise about their "PR machine" being "on fire."
Of course, not everyone in London gets to choose whether to spend the night outside, and for those of us privileged enough to live in sheds at the back of gardens or as de facto security guards, even properties priced well below the market average—these ones were going for between £199,000 and £355,000 [$300,000 and $535,000]—are way out of reach. Nonetheless, keen to find out what drives Generation Rent to spend a winter night on the streets of Hounslow in the vague hope of buying an unbuilt, off-plan shoebox that won't even be ready until 2017, we asked a few wet punters for their views.
VICE: Did you camp here last night?
Dinesh Kumor: Yes. I slept at the front outside. I arrived at 5:30 in the evening.
Jesus. Did you have a tent?
Wasn't it a bit cold?
It was a little bit cold. Yes, definitely.
So what motivated you to do it?
I heard about it on the radio. It's been advertised all the time on LBC, on TV. I saw everybody outside doing it so I said I'll join the party. Whether it's going to be a successful investment only time will tell.
It seems like a pretty strong illustration of the housing crisis. What do you think about London's housing situation right now?
Personally, I don't like it. I think it's a con and I think the government is doing nothing to alleviate the crisis. But if you don't join in you're going to miss out. You go to auctions or estate agents and it's the same or even worse. In Britain this is the way it goes, there is no other way so you just go and do it. It's crazy that in Britain you have to own a home. If you go to Germany most of the population is renting and everybody is very happy.
VICE: How do you feel about all the people lining up outside here in the rain?
Arslan Mehmood: It's madness. I've heard from friends that everywhere it's the same experience. Wherever you go there's a lot of people, some looking for their own places, some looking for investments. This is my first experience with Galliard but it's not a very good arrangement, they should have something indoors. With this kind of weather it's hard.
Why have you come down today?
I'm a first-time buyer so I'm renting at the moment in Croydon. I'm sick of it but I can't afford to buy my own place. This is a really good opportunity. I've been trying to get something but failing.
Dr. Jag Singh
How long have you been waiting?
Dr. Jag Singh: About one and a half hours.
Not so long then. What do you make of the situation?
The situation is bad. A lot of people are queuing up for the property. I think most people here are looking for an investment, though there might be a few people looking to move in. I'm renting at the moment and rent is expensive. It means a lot to me to buy something because I have saved my earnings to make this step.
VICE: When did you get here?
Arun Mehrotra: Just now.
What do you think about the people who lined up last night?
I think that's going to happen all the time. Forty years ago, even 20 years ago, there was no problem. Suddenly in the last decade there's a massive problem. I think the competition is really high, which is why people are queuing.
What's your housing situation like at the moment?
I have two older kids in their mid to late 20s and I need to get them out of the house at some point so I have to look at what the options are. They've lived at home all their lives and we'd like to see the back of them at some stage.
What do you think of these flats? Are they even that cheap?
No, not really. They are quite expensive, but given how expensive other properties are in London they're OK.
VICE: How long have you been waiting in the line?
Emma Rading: Actually not that long. About an hour or so.
What do you think of the people who camped out?
It's insane. It's ridiculous and I think the bubble is going to burst soon again.
Are you hoping to buy a flat?
I'm looking to purchase a flat for a buy-to-let investment. I'm already on the property ladder so now I'm onto the next round. I have another property I let out in Acton. This is strategic.
Don't you think cheap properties should be for people who need them more?
I completely agree and sympathize with that and I was one of those people a few years ago. But now I'm doing my bit to queue up and it's first-come, first-served.
VICE: Why have all these people stood outside in the rain and others camped overnight for a publicity stunt?
David Galman, Galliard Homes Sales Director: I don't think it was a publicity stunt.
Why didn't you do it online then?
Because they wouldn't be able to see the flats online, would they? We have a building here.
But why didn't you do a first-come first-serve thing by registering people online rather than making them stand outside?
We didn't make them stand outside, they chose to. The minute it was raining we gave them all umbrellas and ponchos and when it was safe to bring them in the building we brought them in.
So not a publicity stunt?
Why would it be a publicity stunt? We don't need to do a publicity stunt. We build and sell 4,000 homes a year.
Seems like a lot of people here aren't actually first-time buyers but buy-to-let-landlords. What do you make of that?
I can't stop people buying flats. It's going to happen, unfortunately. As long as we're serving a purpose and we are providing a property and decent accommodation for people to live in that's part of our job done.
What do you think this whole thing says about London's lack of affordable homes?
I think the people that should be looked at in respect of London's lack of affordable homes are the local authorities and government in terms of planning permissions and the banks in giving finance. There's a misnomer that developers sell properties very early off-plan for commercial gain. The reason we have to do that is if you haven't got a sold product you cannot go to the bank and get finance to build it.