Published: 05:00, 01 May 2022
With house prices soaring across Kent, many young people are losing hope of ever being able to save up a deposit to buy a property.
The alternative is to rent - but that is becoming increasingly difficult, with some residents now even opting to move as far as Wales to find somewhere more affordable.
Analysis by KentOnline reveals that in half of the county's towns, there are no houses available to rent for less than £1,000 per month.
Meanwhile, in some areas there aren't any available at all.
One Kent MP has described the situation as "extremely concerning", while estate agents admit "there's very little around at sensible prices".
The average rent for a house in Kent is now £1,445pcm, according to property website home.co.uk.
And with median take-home pay in the county at about £1,650 a month, it's a wonder how anyone renting alone can afford to cover the bills at a time when energy prices are also soaring.
It also highlights why almost a third of people aged 20 to 34 are still living with their parents.
'It's impossible to have any quality of life'
We asked residents across the county whether they are now being priced out of renting.
Kayleigh Parnham is currently renting a three-bed house near Maidstone town centre for £1,200 a month. But in a few weeks' time she will be moving more than 200 miles away to Wales.
"It's just impossible to aspire - as a single parent working full-time - to have any quality of life outside of paying rent," the 34-year-old told KentOnline.
"You have got no hope of putting a deposit aside to buy your own house or of saving or doing anything."
Miss Parnham, who works as a cover teacher and has always lived in Kent, says she has looked "everywhere" in the local area for alternative accommodation.
But when factoring in the cost of petrol for commuting, nothing is affordable.
"Overall I love Maidstone, but I just can't afford to live here," she said.
Miss Parnham says a friend who found herself in a similar situation moved to a town in Wales - so she has decided to follow suit, successfully applying for a council house.
"She said it was the best thing she ever did," said Miss Parnham.
"They can breathe a bit easier now and go out as a family for a day. I wish I could do that with my family."
After making the life-changing decision, Miss Parnham broke the news to her children - Alex ,12, Ellie, 11, and Kaitlynn, eight.
"For the first 24 hours they were very sceptical but now they are very excited," she said.
Miss Parnham added: "It's sad to leave Maidstone, but it's an extension of London now unfortunately and wages/assistance doesn't cover it.
"Moving to places like the north, south, east or Wales, you can find homes the same size for less than half the price.
"Moving is scary, but we are looking forward to being able to breathe again and really live."
Miss Parnham's experience of "extortionate" rents is echoed by others in Maidstone and across the whole county.
Posting on the Kent Messenger's Facebook page, Evelyn Neill says she had been renting a three-bed house in Maidstone last year for £1,025 a month. She has since moved out and says the new tenants are paying £1,500.
Angela Barlow says her rent has gone up by £100 a month, but her wages haven't.
Many people praised their landlords - with some not raising rents over the space of 10 years.
But Nichola Plunkett, posting on the Thanet Extra Facebook page, said: "Mine stayed the same for the first two years of renting, but since then it’s been going up each year and I’m dreading what it’s going to go up to this year.
"If it goes up too high I will be forced to look elsewhere."
Meanwhile, Naomi Bath, from Herne Bay, says her monthly rent has gone up by £180.
Writing on the Kentish Gazette Facebook page, Richard Pearson blamed the number of student homes in Canterbury for the average rent of a house in the city rising to £1,400.
Others have highlighted the insecurity which can come with renting, as landlords can serve so-called "no-fault" Section 21 notices to evict tenants, with a notice period which can be as short as two months.
Liz Ballard, writing on the Kentish Express Facebook page, said: "Got served a Section 21 a couple of months ago as our landlord was selling.
"Now having to pay £1,400 a month. Absolutely crippling but had no choice."
Billy Johnson wrote: "Moved away from Ashford. Was renting for £875 originally, then £950. Went up to £1,125."
Estate agent: 'Landlords are judging this the best time to sell'
KentOnline previously revealed how property prices in Kent rocketed by £56,000 during the pandemic - the sharpest spike in 20 years.
The rise has been fuelled by Londoners looking for a change of lifestyle amid the rise in working from home.
But with the market booming, many landlords are deciding to cash-in on their properties rather than keep renting them out.
This lack of supply has seen prices increase "dramatically", according to Charlie Bainbridge, director of Charles Bainbridge estate agents in Canterbury.
"There is very little around at sensible prices," he said.
The problem is exacerbated in Canterbury, where many properties are used for student housing instead of being on the private rental market.
While the amount of purpose-built student accommodation is increasing, the prices are unaffordable for many young people.
Mr Bainbridge says investing in property has been made "less attractive" by recent "onerous" changes to the tax system, such as an additional 3% stamp duty for second homes.
While in theory this makes more homes available to buy, it further limits the supply of rental properties available, pushing up prices.
"A lot of people are getting to the end of tenancies at the moment," he said.
"Landlords are judging this is going to be the best time to sell.
"A few properties are coming out of the rental market and across to the sales department. That's adding to the lack of supply.
"Before, where someone might have inherited their grandad's house, for example, and rented it out - now they will just sell it. So it hasn't gone into the private rented sector.
"Those variables have created an incredibly short supply of properties available."
Mr Bainbridge says they have seen some people from London looking to move out of the capital making big offers on homes for sale in Canterbury.
He said: "It's happening in certain instances with exceptional properties. We have seen £25,000+ being offered over the guide price on homes in the £350,000-£500,000 market.
"It's a trend that's there at the moment. It does make it difficult in terms of affordability."
Mr Bainbridge says interfering with the market is "a very dangerous game to play".
"There has to be an emphasis on creating affordable supply for people to rent," he added.
MP: 'It’s clear that we have a broken housing system'
Kent MP Rosie Duffield says young people should not have to move away or live with their parents for years in order to eventually find a home of their own.
“I am extremely concerned about the high prices that local people are having to pay in order to rent a home," she said.
"People struggling to save up to get on the housing ladder are having to pay significant sums every month just to rent."
The Labour politician, who represents Canterbury and Whitstable, highlights how the number of households in the private rented sector has increased by more than a million since 2010, with one in four families with children now renting privately. At the same time, average private rents have risen by more than £2,000 a year compared to 2010, ahead of wage growth for many people.
“It’s clear that we have a broken housing system that is in desperate need of reform," Ms Duffield said.
"We need to rebalance the system away from developers and towards local communities, closing loopholes to stop developers from wriggling out of commitments to build affordable homes, and giving stronger powers to our councils to deliver the affordable housing that communities actually need, rather than housing to maximise developers’ profits."
Ms Duffield says more homes need to be built for social rent in order to reduce pressure on the private rented sector.
She added: "People deserve to be able to live in good-quality, safe and secure homes that are affordable to rent.
“Young people should not have to move away or have to live with their parents for years to scrape together the money for a deposit. I want to see first-time buyers getting the priority to buy new homes.
"We need an ambition from the government to re-establish the link between genuinely affordable housing and average earnings, bringing affordable rents and the prospect of home ownership much closer for those who are currently locked out of the housing system.”
Conservative MP Craig Mackinlay, who represents South Thanet, says planning and housebuilding "causes community concern perhaps like no other".
"I have said for many years that piecemeal additions to our towns and villages simply misses the point and adds to local pressures," he added.
"Far better, in my view, for a Kent-wide strategy of a potential new-town development properly connected and planned for to provide supposed new housing need."