London housing crisis extends to the water

Story highlights

  • Londoners once flocked to the city's waterways to escape a housing crisis on land
  • Today, canals are overcrowded, under-resourced and even dangerous

(CNN)London vies with Hong Kong and Monaco for the unenviable title of the world's most expensive city for housing.

The average house price in the English capital is now nearly £600,000 ($787,000), and a study from the charity Shelter found just 43 properties affordable to people on an average income.
    Several of these properties were houseboats.
    Life on London's 100-mile network of canals, or 42-mile stretch of the River Thames, has become a popular option for beleaguered citizens, and such homes can cost as little as £20,000 ($26,500).
    But as more people swap apartments for houseboats, the popular, romantic vision is giving way to a harsh reality.

    Surge in houseboats

    The Canal & River Trust (CRT), which manages the canals of England and Wales, reports that boat numbers in London have increased by 57% since 2012.
    "We're seeing a huge rise in the popularity of boats, and London is the hotspot," says Joe Coggins, a spokesman for the Trust. "The issue we have is that some people don't move enough and stay in the same areas, which causes congestion."
    The Trust offers two types of licenses for boaters: permanent moorings which cost at least £1,000 ($1,320) in popular locations, and "continuous cruiser" licenses, which are around £1,000 a year, but require the boater to find a new location every 14 days -- the latter have increased in number by 153% to 1,615 boats since 2012.
    This rapid influx of new boaters has put the waterways under pressure, in areas such as Little Venice, the glamorous West London enclave that is home to stars such as Oasis guitarist Noel Gallagher and designer Stella McCartney.
    Boats line the canals of Little Venice, West London.