Mention housing to almost anyone in the UK and the conversation will inevitably, it seems, turn to the question of affordability – in particular how young people are ever meant to get on the housing ladder.
Surveys have shown how over 40% of young people believe they will be renting all of their lives.
The causes are many, but mainly around the expansion of credit boosting demand way beyond supply.
That sounds a straight forward explanation. But it covers a whole host of contradictions. Firstly: demand and supply of what? Dwellings? Or accommodation? It’s a fine point, but essentially it boils down to bedrooms. Danny Dorling makes the point in All That is Solid: there are more spare bedrooms in London than individuals on housing waiting lists across the country.
That doesn’t mean that everyone could happily move to London and rent a box room in an elderly woman’s house in Wandsworth. But the point is that under-occupation is chronic in the UK, largely due to increasing life-expectancy and those couples staying on in their family houses well after their adult children leave home. They stay there for a whole host of reasons – one of which is “just in case”. Just in case sudden unemployment, relationship breakdown, illness or some other emergency means those adult children return. To be fair to those elderly parents, the risks of those things happening are high.
But there’s a similar push that ends up in a far more concrete (literally) impact on the housing market. Whereas the construction of care homes or retirement villages incentivizes those elderly residents to sell-up and downsize, the construction of purpose-built student accommodation removes developable land from the housing market and reduces supply of other forms of housing. Why? Because students usually live somewhere else as well, and have a bedroom ready waiting for them. In other words, student homes are pretty much second homes.
And yet, a key villain of the “housing crisis” in the eyes of those same young people is the second home owner: the well-paid city-based professional who heads to his or her pad in the countryside at weekends. It’s ironic that students joining the clamour for “something to be done” about housing affordability in the UK are highly likely to be directly contributing to the problem by living in two places at once.