Monday, 16 July 2012

It's Plain It's A Studio Flat

I’ve recently seen several articles about building new homes fit for our brave future. Apparently we must design compactly. But whether renting or buying, we must take what we are given. Descriptions use a special, secret code, which using complex computer programmes I have broken, and share with you here.

‘Studio Flat.’ Beware: it’s a cupboard. Definitely a cupboard, but somehow the following have been shoehorned in: a bath (with shower over bath) a fully fitted kitchen with all those new hi-tech appliances you’ve dreamed of, a bedroom featuring a luxurious divan, and a lounge with a sofa and other niceties like a coffee and bookshelves. Yes, they really did cram all that in, but by folding and combining: the bath folds out into a double bed, and the kitchen doubles up for a parking space, and also serves as the bedroom/sleeping space (at night).

‘One bedroom.’ Also a cupboard, but slightly larger. The selling point is that separate bedroom, but beware: it’s certainly large enough for a wardrobe, double bed, chest of drawers, bedside table and chair, but only if your name is Barbie, and you love that cute, pink, plastic furniture.

‘Two bedrooms.’ See above, but with two bedrooms. To be fair, one is larger, but the second is a hollow in the wall, with an inflatable mattress. They used to be called box rooms, and were considered big enough for boxes, or unplanned, surplus children. These days, they are ‘compact’ and rented by four Malaysian engineering students, who exist in shifts and exhale on a strict rota.

‘Three bedrooms.’ Here we are introduced to the concept of ‘The Master Bedroom’, which sounds downright kinky to me. Bedrooms are where mortals go to sleep and fart, or submit reluctantly to clumsy, half-hearted sex, but ‘master bedroom’? The very phrase implies some kind of power relationship, where punishment is assigned, and delivered. The ‘master bedroom’ (sorry - still giggling) is supposed to be larger, but is still only big enough for one double bed, and nothing else whatsoever.

‘Needs refurbishment’? It’s a cave in a valley where the glaciers have only recently retreated. There’s no electricity, space, walls, or water (actually, does an open sewer count as running water?)

‘Ideal family home?’ A sturdy compound, with all rooms separated by barbed wire fencing, or a concrete ‘peace’ wall. The basement provides for secure solitary confinement. There is large room used only on those national celebrations when the family are pretending to get on, say at Xmas, but this is fitted with a sprinkler system, to dampen dissent. UN hostage negotiators and the SAS are constantly on call. Well that’s my ideal family home.

‘City Centre pied-a-terre?’ A shoebox under an expressway.

Basement? Hello vitamin D deficiency!

Penthouse flat? A tiny awkward space at the centre of Pirenesian labyrinth of stairs, with a Jenga of beams on which to bump your aching head.

Ideal First Home? It’s free. That’s everybody’s ideal first home.

Now: go forth and house yourself, tenants. Be happy, and go gently to your ‘master bedroom.’ Architects and developers – I’ll leave you to start the improvements, shall I?


ceridwen said...


New reader here again...gradually working my way back through your posts. I could write my own take on this post - from a homebuying point of view (pet hate, by now, being "extended" - ie the garden was small in the first place - but they've built on it and its now even smaller).

Anyways - I've got two questions from the posts I've read to date:
1. You talk about "housing benefit to be abolished". I've read about the proposal to abolish rent payments for under 25s. I've read about those 25-34 being expected to live in a shared house. Both of these things appall me. I also gather that rents have to be in the lowest 30% of rents in order for them to be paid in full - even if one is 35 plus age group and only in a one bedroom flat. I think it would be useful if you could have a post up explaining exactly how the authorities work out how much rent they will pay - and any ways this would change under Universal Credit. Its been many years since I had to rent - and the goalposts have moved a heck of a lot since then and I've little idea what the "rules of the game" are these days.

The other thing that I am wondering about is you have referred a couple of times to people having to live in garages and sheds. I am a bit puzzled by this - as I have certainly come across reference to people doing this and the articles/tv programmes I have seen about this to date have always only featured illegal immigrants living in garages/sheds. Are there British or British nationality people also living in garages/sheds? - as I did think doing this was something that only "illegals" are doing? Or have I got that wrong - and we (ie British or british nationality) are also doing so too these days?

Dazzla said...

"Or have I got that wrong - and we (ie British or british nationality) are also doing so too these days?"

I'm not sure that the distinction that you're making is important. People who can't afford to live in decent-sized houses and flats are being forced to live in structures that would previously not be used for habitation.

Their legal status is surely unimportant?

Penny Anderson said...

Ceridwen: housing benefit, that is, the idea that housing costs were covered for claimants, vanished under LHA, which introduced a cap. There always a was a case for 'reasonableness' ie you couldn't rent a mansion. Universald credit is a monthly amount out of which the claimants must pay for rent. The difference is subtle, but important. And yep: if 'illegals' or 'immigangrants' are living in sheds and Brits are not, would that make it right? because yes, Brits are occasional being housed in glorified sheds. I know of a trainee hairdresser in brighton was who renting a garage (with furniture inside.) What's your point exactly?

ceridwen said...


Thanks Penny for that clarification. As I said - there's been a LOT of goalpost shifting since my renting days - hence I think it would be useful to ascertain just what the goalposts actually now are - to make for a clearer picture of what is happening. Re the "who is living in garages/sheds" point - I guess that is something that doesnt require explanation to those of "a certain age" or older - as our mindset is almost certainly that of "People are entitled to be decently housed if they are legally entitled to be here in the country in the first place. If they're not then.......". There may be a different way of thinking "since my time" that goes "So what if they're illegal...?" - but that is not a viewpoint that would be shared I suspect by most middle-aged or older people. My generation and before came to adulthood before "political correctness" thinking became fashionable.

So - I don't want to get into owt discussion-wise re this - as that could "go round in circles" for evermore. I was just asking whether anyone "entitled to live in Britain" (therefore entitled to reasonable accommodation) is living in garage/shed conditions and you have clarified that one person, to your knowledge, is.

Thanks for that.

Dazzla said...

Hi ceridwen

I didn't want to get into 'that' conversation either, and I don't think I explained myself very well. The thing is, due to the deregulation of the housing sector there's very little difference between what illegal immigrants are forced to accept and what people who can't afford anything else are forced to accept. There's no official protection for anyone any more, not even council tenants (and there aren't even many of them left).

If the very poor are forced to accept these conditions, it has a knock-on effect for everyone else.

ceridwen said...

Hi dazzla

So - back firmly on topic - and what protection do tenants have these days?

I know back in the day when I was renting:
- we had Rent Officers (who fixed maximum rent payable on property)
- we had security of tenure (I knew that little short of an earthquake could move me on from any property I rented until I myself decided to move). So I rented two different places privately for a total of 6 years - before finally being able to get public sector housing (as younger childless people had at last been allowed to get onto the List).
- one had Public Sector tenancies until death or deciding to move oneself (the one thing I DO agree with is public sector tenants can now be given notice for antisocial behaviour - thus freeing the housing up for ones who arent antisocial).

I had no worries re the rent if I became unemployed - even as someone under 25 I knew that my rent would be paid in full for however long I needed it - as long as my home was "reasonable level" in the eyes of a reasonable person (ie I know I could have had an average one bedroom flat safely and think I would have been safe for keeping a 2 bedroom flat or house).

Things that havent changed, it would appear, is rented housing is dear for what it is. Living in a dear part of England there was no choice but to live in a bedsit or shared house as a single person - as one bedroom flats were (and are) only affordable for the well-paid and couples. Also one had to be quick off the mark to get it - I remember it was a case of standing right outside the newspaper offices waiting for the first edition of the paper to come out and then literally running across the road to the phonebox to phone up about a place (and even then it might have already gone). There was an element of "bidding wars" (though I dont think that went on, at that time, to any great extent) - but I recall a group of us going to look at a house for rent one time and offering the quoted price - but we got outbid by a group of people who offered more than that.

So - I suspect that even those of us who are middle-aged (rather than elderly) and had learnt "the rules of the game" back then would be facing a whole different ballgame to the one we knew then. Hence wondering just how different things are these days...

RenterGirl said...

Nobody whoever they are and however they came to the UK deserves to endure the mess that renting currently is. I notice that Labout have mentioned regulating letting agents and their crazy fees. But it all needs to change. Rogue landlords, who convert garages/sheds and cram too many people into rooms are evil but rare. The low level misery of dealing with so-called studio flats and being gazumped and then charged £200 for a reference check that costs £5 (when the landlord is also being billed for it and charged a percentage) must end. Tenants shouldn't pay. Landlords should pay a fair amount - they get the profit on their business after all. Can you imagine charging and entranec fee to a supermarket?

ceridwen said...

Will have to agree to disagree with you there RenterGirl re first comment - as there wouldnt be such a demand problem for accommodation in the first place methinks if there wasnt a lot of "extra demand" from those not even entitled to BE in this country in the first place and I'm still smarting from having inadvertently taken in what I now strongly suspect were two illegal immigrants as lodgers by accident (they told me they were a student!!!! Yeah right.....wouldnt have taken them in if I'd known...agh!!!). So - having had a variety of foreign lodgers - most of whom were legit. I would, if I had my time again, check and check again that they REALLY were the students that those two particular ones told me they were - but I don't think they were in the event. The clues were there at the outset I guess - that they were male and a few years older than my usual (student) lodgers. I should have asked for proof of student status too - as I certainly never saw any evidence whatsoever of either of them studying - but I DID see evidence of one of them doing what must have amounted to a full-time job in the local kebab takeaway. I think its worth pointing out to others who might inadvertently end up housing "illegals" the clues I should have spotted - but didnt - embarrassed smilie - and I would have known not to give them the room - DUH!!!! (clap hand to head and groan smilie). I am still upset and angry that it looks as if I was conned into helping 2 people to stay in this country that werent even entitled to be here....grrr..

The letting agents' fee thing, on the other hand, is something that seems to have come along since my day - and I do agree that thats not on. I've seen someone I know have to find a new rented place recently - and seen her have to pay a charge for a "credit reference" that no-one even thought to ask me for back in the 1970s (as it was in my case). I expected to just find my place to rent and not have to pay ANY upfront charges whatsoever - not even a deposit. I just took it that I would meet the landlord/lady at viewing and they would take one look at my (honest) face and give me the place and that was what happened. Admitted - I'd be asking for deposit/credit reference myself these days (from all the tales I've heard and what I experienced when I took in lodgers myself) - but I find it really odd to think in terms of having to pay letting agents to find a place.

Dazzla said...

The accommodation shortage is absolutely not caused by immigration. Walk around any city centre in Britain and you'll see empty flats, empty houses, empty buildings.

Also, land hoarding is a serious problem. The big supermarkets do it. Development companies do it. they do it to keep their existing stocks of land more valuable, by controlling supply.

Added to this is the spectre of the agent, a relatively recent addition to the scene, whose interest lies in inflating prices and whose activities cause inflation anyway.

If you still want to assert that the housing crisis is caused by immigration, you're going to have to come up with some solid figures. It's irresponsible and dangerous throw accusations like that around and I think it should be challenged whenever possible.

So, some numbers please.

RenterGirl said...

Ceridwen I echo Dazzla's view. Please keep your ill-informed racist views off this blog. As for your earlier assertion that older people did not grow up with 'political correctness' many elderly people manage not to be racist and even started ant- racist groups. This blog is about housing, you keep veering back to immigration, so don't. Further bigoted comments face deletion.

space cadet said...

When it comes to keeping "numbers", this Govt's track record speaks for itself.

Dazzla said...

It does, yes, but as long as you keep the limitations in mind, government statistics can be useful. The tabloids and government ministers with agendas tend to simplify them by quoting headline figures without the accompanying caveats and explanations. A very simple example would be the recently announced £9.4bn of spending on the railways, which turned out, on closer inspection, to include £4.5bn of already-announced spending. This leads people to say "Oh, well, statistics are useless," which is akin to my saying "A hammer is useless as a screwdriver".

As I said, obviously anyone has the right to any opinion they wish to claim, but until we have the numbers, it's just opinion and when I see unsupported assertions, it leads me to wonder why someone would hold this or that opinion in the absence of real evidence to support it.

tl;dr: absence of reliable data isn't evidence of anything at all.

Anonymous said...

Not that I defend his/her xenophobic concerns, but I don't believe Ceridwen mentioned race at any point?

RenterGirl said...

Splitting hairs I think Anon, and she wouldn't stop.

Alice said...

Up-and-coming? [dodgy]