Thursday, 19 January 2012

Made For Sharing

Think of the average house-share: everybody is a bosom buddy, and in between fond group hugs, people look out for each other. Delicious and nutritionally sound meals are prepared, cooked and enjoyed together every night before occupants adjourn to the spacious shared lounge (after the washing up rota has been cheerily observed) to watch mutually agreed entertainment, after which they retire to their spacious rooms for hobbies or sleep, as their warm utterances of ‘good night’ echo throughout just like The Waltons.

Ha. Ha. Ha.

I’ve been thinking about the housing benefit rule change (my mind is a fantastical palace of wonder) and keep coming back to one problem in particular: rental properties are designed for families, not independent adults who either choose, or are obliged to share.

But first a recap: the UK’s economic downfall was caused in part by poor design. Buy-to-let chancers ‘invested’ in shoddy, flimsy dovecots/euroboxes, which always had a maximum of two bedrooms. Six month tenancies (usually bad, but here good) granted dissatisfied tenants freedom to move, leaving owners with empty flats, mortgage arrears and ultimately – bankruptcy. If only developers, investors and buyers had listened to what people want from a home.

New Housing Benefit rules mean that claimants under 35 are entitled to just the shared home rate. There aren’t enough suitable houses to go round, and in any case, families need them. Singletons who share have quite specific needs (claiming or not, as people share because rents are eye-watering) so here’s a suggestion: why not build houses aimed specifically at adults who share, but are not related or attached?

In modern houses especially, bedrooms are small, and lounges and diners are usually open-plan, despite the fact that shared home life differs to family life: meals are rarely communal, so please supply extra cupboard space for individual food storage.

Remember that many bedrooms intended for children in a family home are smaller than prison cells, so bedrooms must be larger: becoming combined dining rooms, lounges and even workrooms (some freelancers work from home, and need space for a desk and a gap between desk and bed.)

Occupants invite friends round to visit, eat and meet, so open-plan is not ideal when trying to watch a film and there is a gathering in the kitchen. Separate rooms work best here.

I say this as if anyone will care or take notice. But why not build family homes which make maximum use of space and suit family lifestyles, and then specialised homes optimising space for people who live in what are called homes in multiple occupation, that is larger houses shared by groups of people united by the simple fact of living in the same house who might not know, or even like each other, and so need defined personal space.

When will owners, developers commission buildings for rent taking tenants needs and wants into consideration, rather than applying the same old norms and practices? Generation rent need housing to suit them.


space cadet said...

I've long thought that the modern student housing they build these days would suit the modern day renter very well. Especially, the studios that have their own kitchen. Prices need to drop though.

And maybe they could start putting the bloody washing machine in the bathroom, as is commonplace in some parts of Europe?!

I tire of listening to it in the kitchen and trying to hear the radio, let alone trying to hear the TV over it, or shouting to have a conversation, as these open-plan living arrangements insist on making people do!

RenterGirl said...

I have thought the same. And yes - washing machines in shared houses with open plan lounge diners. Nightmare! The spin cycle always starts at a delicate moment on the phone. If less students leave home to study and live with their folks, then this might happen very soon. Although the actual rooms in flats are small, with room for just a single bed, what with students being celibate and all.

Fiend's Brave Victim said...

Good post. I just moved into a purpose built studio (1960s, with the grim exterior but considered interiors of council architecture departments of the time) and I must say it's great. The rent is London eye-watering, though it seems to be a good deal compared to one and two-beds in the area, and irksome since the rest of the building is still council-owned and most people in here pay a third of what I do for much bigger places. Oh to be deservingly poor. I feel fortunate to have found the place though---studios are usually afterthoughts in the roofs and cellars of grimy terraces.

Washing machine is in the kitchen, which has a door (I resolved never to suffer an open plan kitchen after I sold my last place). And I'm busy out earning the rent enough for laundry for one to hum away without bothering me anyway.

RenterGirl said...

The thing is, they are a bit like pods: is there room for people to stay, to invite friends round, dry your washing...? I hope so.

craigs clock said...

Ive just moved out off rather a good deal. It was a large victorian house converted, in the 1980's, into bedsits. The rooms were large a spacious. I had a settee, table and chairs, double bed, wardrobe, drawers/dresser, gas fire and little kitchen area. All in one room. The bathroom was supposed to only be shared with one other bedsit but in practice that didn't happen. Lots of people used it - hence the cleaning disputes. The bath/shower - hot water was free. Also the washing machine (in the garage) was free. There was also a large back garden for all tenants to use. But still I wasn't happy. I moved out because a neighbour felt it approriate to bang on my door and loosen all rage because of a family member of mine visiting inadvertantly parked his car in the wrong spot.
I felt the barriers of respect had fallen down and I felt I was treated unreasonably.
Within 7 days I completely upsticks and left. I now live in the house vacated by my father while he lives with his fiancee. Rent free.
So it's worked out for the better, temporarily. I feel I had to eat humble pie and approach the bank of mum and dad.

RenterGirl said...

The human nature can ruin a really nice arrangement.

Oh and anonymous - well spotted on the typo!