As 2017 rolls in, it looks like the dreaded housing crisis is here to stay — and there’s no obvious end in sight. Homeownership remains entirely out of reach for the majority of young people, leaving them to struggle with disproportionately high rental prices year on year. There’s speculation that this might be the year of the ‘Great Housing Crash’, bringing lower prices but also lower incomes — not really a great improvement.
Newspapers talk pretty much exclusively about these financial dimensions, and about a shortage of housing stock, but there’s much more to the crisis we face. Fact is, we’re struggling to uphold an outdated housing model that is fundamentally out of touch with the ways people want to be living in 2017 — ways we could be living.
Do we even want to own homes? Changes in work and consumption
Recent shifts in consumption have seen ownership go out of fashion, usurped by access-based models. The sharing economy — with offerings like Spotify, Zipcar and Airbnb — provides consumers with access to a plethora of goods and services that they would never be able to afford on their own. In short, when we share, we get more bang for our buck (and we also waste less). Are there ways we can apply this model to housing?
For the time being, homeownership is still talked about like it should be the ultimate aim for young people, but it doesn’t hold the same appeal for the Millennial generation as it did for their parents. Financial reasons aside, Millennials are putting off major life milestones like getting married and having children, placing less of a need on the purchase of a permanent home.
The Millennial generation also put a much higher emphasis on finding work they care about, and are willing to take the time to find it (even if that means slumming it with Mum and Dad). They are not a generation of people who will be inclined to take a job they hate for years for the sake of getting and maintaining a mortgage.
Another major trend disrupting the world of work is a shift towards remote working. With more and more of us able to do our jobs anywhere in the world where we can catch a wifi signal, there’s less of a need to purchase a home in a fixed geographical location. This diminishes the need to purchase expensive housing in London’s commuter belt, and opens the door to global mobility — a priority for a Millennial generation ruled by wanderlust and thirst for experiences rather than things.
In short, homeownership is geographically and financially restrictive, incompatible with Millennial attitudes towards life, and largely unnecessary to the ‘new work order’.
Do we want what’s on offer? Isolation Isolation Isolation
Financial issues aside, do we really want the types of housing currently available?
As if a housing crisis wasn’t bad enough, there’s also a loneliness epidemic sweeping the UK: London has been named the loneliest place in both the UK and in Europe.
Technology is probably largely to blame, with its replacement of face-to-face contact, but so is the decline of the local community. Most housing options represent an incredibly isolated way of living — most people don’t even know who their neighbours are, and who can blame them? The current system isn’t designed for interaction outside of our solitary home boundaries. We’re building more housing developments and tower blocks, but with them no communal spaces where we can get to know the people who live in our vicinity.
A need for community is actually more pressing than it sounds. Scientific studies have documented the positive effects of living in a community on one’s health, longevity and overall wellbeing. On the flipside, loneliness can be literally life-threatening. Human beings have historically always lived in close-knit tribes, thriving on a sense of community and connection with others, but the majority of housing options aren’t taking that onboard.
What’s more, in an age where sustainability is high on the national and global agendas, and where we have the technology to build in more sustainable ways, why the lack of sustainable housing? Much of the new residential housing stock being built is no different to the types of thing we were building 25 years ago. What we build now may be there for the next 50 years, the next century, or even longer — so why aren’t we making the investment now to have more efficient and sustainable homes for the future? This no doubt a complex issue, hinging on policy, legislation, monopolies in the housing development market, and perhaps even consumer awareness issues — but it 100% needs addressing.
Where do we go from here?
In a nutshell, solving the housing crisis will involve a lot more that building more houses or providing cheaper living solutions. In 2017 we’re working differently, consuming differently, and have new technology at our disposal... our homes should reflect that.
Curious about alternative ways of living? This piece is the first of a 2-part series — check back next week for Part 2 — 5 Models for The Future.
Written by Grace Waters