Here’s why living without living rooms is no way to solve the housing crisis

The Collective: a development in Old Oak Common, west London, where young people live in tiny, hotel-like rooms. Image: Getty.

One way to solve the UK’s affordable housing dilemma could be for “city-based young professionals” to live in hotel-style homes without communal living space, one leading think-tank recently suggested.

On 25 April, the neo-liberal Adam Smith Institute published a paper titled “Only capitalism can solve the housing crisis”. It argued that living in smaller houses and flats, without shared amenities, could be a way to fulfil the current suffocating demand for cheaper, city-based housing across the UK.

The paper’s author, architect Patrik Schumacher, claims that, “For many young professionals who are out and about networking 24/7, a small, clean, private hotel-room sized central patch serves their needs perfectly well.”

But is it fair to expect a generation of young people to accept a lower standard of living, in return for centrally located and affordable accommodation?

As a survey into housing among 1,000 20-29-year-old ‘millennials’, conducted by property consultancy CBRE, revealed, 63 per cent of this age group who do not currently live at home are renting. It’s clear that it’s the so-called Generation Rent who will primarily be affected by any reduction in the quality of rented property.

And it’s clear that they are worried about the effect this new housing model could have on people’s lives – whether that means a lack of personal space, or a negative impact on mental health conditions, from depression and anxiety to agoraphobia.

Thea de Gallier, a 28-year-old journalist from east London, described the idea as terrible. “Millennials are constantly being told to lower their expectations, whether that’s to stop buying small luxuries or to stop being so offended at everything – and now they’re telling us we don’t need personal space.

“I’ve lived in a tiny room and it really affected my mental health. Granted if you’re living alone it may not be so bad having less space, but I think it would still be quite miserable and claustrophobic.”

Business owner Sophia Waterfield, 29, from Yorkshire, added: “I think this suggestion is skirting around the housing issue. You already have places in the city that do not have living areas, only bedrooms, shared kitchen and bathroom – so I don’t think having more of these will solve the problem. Renting prices need to come down and controlled properly, especially in cities such as London.”

Writer Ronan O’Shea, 31, from North London, also disagreed with the paper’s suggestion. “It sounds like a Band-Aid answer to me,” he said. “Humans require communal space – and community – in general. It seems like the sort of idea that would be used to benefit government statistics-wise.”

It’s not a surprise this so-called ‘solution’ has been widely slated. Can it really come as a shock that most people would like somewhere aside from the six-foot space around their bed to watch TV and dry their washing?

But, while many young people are opposed to this suggestion, others could be convinced.

Student Chiara Fiorillo, 21, lives in central London. She said: “Obviously price is often a key factor for young professionals and having a chance to rent a cheaper place always comes in handy.”


And Maria Mellor, 22, an office worker from Bristol, added: “This makes sense. I think young city-based professionals are willing to make compromises like this and it would work.

“I don’t think it’s going to be the solution to the housing crisis, but it will definitely relieve the pressure on strained systems.”

For some millennial renters, however, the paper’s description of societally mandated housing standards as “arbitrary” and “a scandal that compromises all our cities and lives”, couldn’t be further from the truth.

Solving the housing crisis, to them, means far more than simply providing the UK’s workforce with “small, clean, private” spaces to eat and sleep. They are not all ‘24/7 networkers’ – and the ability to sustain an existence outside of work is something they prize.

Will Pritchard, 27, a London-based freelance journalist said: “It’s important for maintaining a work-life balance that you have a space that you do more than just sleep in between work shifts. The report’s suggestion seems to perpetuate the idea that you need to sacrifice quality of life – or pay extortionate amounts – in order to live near your work in the city.

“The only other option seems to be living in the sticks and shouldering a crippling daily commute in return for a living room and a garden,” he added.

 “Without a living room, flatshares effectively become nothing more than a people storage solution,” says Matt Hutchinson, of flatshare site SpareRoom. “Feeling comfortable and happy at home is a basic requirement, not a luxury. We need to do far more to make sure homes are affordable for millennials, instead of telling them to downsize their expectations about having a living room.”

Ultimately, it’s hard to see this proposal making much of a dent in the UK’s current housing shortage. Houses are so much more than places to recharge our batteries before we return to contributing to the economy.

There’s something soulless about this vision of the future, and its refusal to acknowledge that a house or flat is also a home; a place of sanctuary, relaxation, and freedom.

Forget free education, citizens’ inheritances, or free bus travel; if a political party wants to win over “city-based young professionals” they need to start with policies a little closer to home.

 
 
 
 

These maps of petition signatories show which bits of the country are most enthusiastic about scrapping Brexit

The Scottish bit. Image: UK Parliament.

As anyone in the UK who has been near an internet connection today will no doubt know, there’s a petition on Parliament’s website doing the rounds. It rejects Theresa May’s claim – inevitably, and tediously, repeated again last night – that Brexit is the will of the people, and calls on the government to end the current crisis by revoking Article 50. At time of writing it’s had 1,068,554 signatures, but by the time you read this it will definitely have had quite a lot more.

It is depressingly unlikely to do what it sets out to do, of course: the Prime Minister is not in listening mode, and Leader of the House Andrea Leadsom has already been seen snarking that as soon as it gets 17.4m votes, the same number that voted Leave in 2016, the government will be sure to give it due care and attention.

So let’s not worry about whether or not the petition will be successful and instead look at some maps.

This one shows the proportion of voters in each constituency who have so far signed the petition: darker colours means higher percentages. The darkest constituencies tend to be smaller, because they’re urban areas with a higher population density. (As with all the maps in this piece, they come via Unboxed, who work with the Parliament petitions team.)

And it’s clear the petition is most popular in, well, exactly the sort of constituencies that voted for Remain three years ago: Cambridge (5.1 per cent), Bristol West (5.6 per cent), Brighton Pavilion (5.7 per cent) and so on. Hilariously, Jeremy Corbyn’s Islington North is also at 5.1 per cent, the highest in London, despite its MP clearly having remarkably little interest in revoking article 50.

By the same token, the sort of constituencies that aren’t signing this thing are – sit down, this may come as a shock – the sort of places that tended to vote Leave in 2016. Staying with the London area, the constituencies of the Essex fringe (Ilford South, Hornchurch & Upminster, Romford) are struggling to break 1 per cent, and some (Dagenham & Rainham) have yet to manage half that. You can see similar figures out west by Heathrow.

And you can see the same pattern in the rest of the country too: urban and university constituencies signing in droves, suburban and town ones not bothering. The only surprise here is that rural ones generally seem to be somewhere in between.

The blue bit means my mouse was hovering over that constituency when I did the screenshot, but I can’t be arsed to redo.

One odd exception to this pattern is the West Midlands, where even in the urban core nobody seems that bothered. No idea, frankly, but interesting, in its way:

Late last year another Brexit-based petition took off, this one in favour of No Deal. It’s still going, at time of writing, albeit only a third the size of the Revoke Article 50 one and growing much more slowly.

So how does that look on the map? Like this:

Unsurprisingly, it’s a bit of an inversion of the new one: No Deal is most popular in suburban and rural constituencies, while urban and university seats don’t much fancy it. You can see that most clearly by zooming in on London again:

Those outer east London constituencies in which people don’t want to revoke Article 50? They are, comparatively speaking, mad for No Deal Brexit.

The word “comparatively” is important here: far fewer people have signed the No Deal one, so even in those Brexit-y Essex fringe constituencies, the actual number of people signing it is pretty similar the number saying Revoke. But nonetheless, what these two maps suggest to me is that the new political geography revealed by the referendum is still largely with us.


In the 20 minutes it’s taken me to write this, the number of signatures on the Revoke Article 50 has risen to 1,088,822, by the way. Will of the people my arse.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

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