More liveaboards in London puts pressure on waterways

Rising housing costs in London have prompted locals to find cheaper accommodations — as liveaboards.
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Rising housing costs in London have prompted locals to find cheaper accommodations — as liveaboards.

Agence France-Presse reports that an increase in the number of people who live on boats is putting pressure on the city’s historic network of rivers and canals. The picturesque lifestyle of sleeping in a colorfully painted narrowboat or barge can seem tempting, especially when buying one can cost a fraction of the price of bricks and mortar.

"It's become more common for people to do it who don't know what they are getting into or even because they have no choice," education worker Jim Bryden, 39, told the news service.

Bryden has lived aboard Violet Mae with his girlfriend, a dog and a cat for two years.

"I've met people who have ended up on a boat because they had two weeks' notice to leave their flat and were able to buy a boat for 10,000 pounds ($16,000),” he said.

Everyone has a story of spotting newcomers struggling with engine failure, steering ineptly along a crowded canal or developing regrets once they face a damp, cold winter on boats often heated by a stove and just 2.1 meters wide.

Maintenance costs can mount quickly and boaters dryly refer to their vessels as "black holes" for cash, constantly in need of repair.

"If you are ignorant about buying a boat it can be easy to buy a boat that will become a nightmare," said Mikaela Khan-Parrack, 26, who has lived on the water for four years and works as a mooring ranger for the Canal and River Trust.

Yet even more expensive boats, which can cost more than 100,000 pounds ($153,665), are still a fraction of the average London house price of 500,000 pounds — more than three quarters of a million dollars — which has risen 11 percent in a year.

In a testament to the increasing popularity of the lifestyle, one boat entered the London waterways for every working day in the past year, with popular areas seeing an 85 percent spike in numbers, according to the CRT.

The increased numbers have caused congestion, with fierce competition for mooring spaces, queues at locks and friction with nearby residents who suddenly find themselves with a large and shifting cast of new neighbors in boats moored two or three deep.

An attempt by the CRT to curb the congestion prompted an outcry from liveaboards.

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