Monday, 22 April 2013

Two Bedroom Blues

When I lived in Dovecot Towers, all I could see for miles over the horizon was block after block - after never ending block - of near identical low-rise newbuilds, rigidly alike, featuring a maximum of one or two bedrooms.

They were tiny, well insulated for warmth although not for sound intrusion and solidly aimed at buy-to-let purchasers. When they were rented out, they condensed the nature of what makes an acceptable tenants – no claimants or freelancers, and everyone needed guarantors. They were aimed at a mythical clientele, namely ‘young professionals’ saving-up to own.

Meanwhile, as tenants in social housing are learning, social housing providers commissioned homes with at least two beds, and hardly any one beds. This was deliberate. A change in demographics emerged suddenly. The need for more one bed flats was caused by couples separating and staying alone, singletons by choice, divorced dads who leave the family home, empty-nesters, and childless couples.

Now social-security cuts have ruined any hope of safety (say it loud: once again, benefits subsidise low wages, landlord’s income and corporate profits not the idle feckless lives of scroungers, and there aren’t enough jobs to go round.)

Local Housing Allowance (formerly housing benefits) is set at an artificially low level when paid to for single renters who want, or need to live in a one bed flat. The bedroom tax penalises everyone with so-called extra rooms, even when the rent in a one bed private sector home is more than a three-bed social home.

Lives are different now – people live as individuals, and the old culture of lodging or boarding houses with curfews, restrictions on bathrooms use, and communally cooked meals would be extremely unpopular and unworkable today. Then imagine sharing for the rest of your life, in an overcrowded HMO where everyone works different shifts, with clashing life schedules. Some occupants might have mental health problems, while others might simply be unsuited to mixing with human beings at close quarters. That’s why many people – yes, even claimants – want to live alone.

Is a small one bedroom flat much to expect? But then, come to think of it – is a spare room too much to ask?

People need an extra room, for many reasons, simple and complex. For storage – not just dialysis machines or carer’s paraphernalia, but just a room to keep stuff in, when flats are small. They are useful for guests, for family, for offices used for home-working or homework, and were considered desirable and easy to provide when flats were built. Some people – just, you know – want a spare room, and there might be nothing smaller than a two bed in their home city.

The solution? Build generous one bed flats with space, light and cupboards, ideally a separate lounge (at least a utility cupboard so occupants can’t hear the washing machine.) With somewhere to dry laundry.

One sector has built what the other sector needs – while the people who need the one-bed homes can’t afford them. Landlord greed for high rents and benefit restrictions, not need, decree how people must live. Madness. Uneconomical, wrong-headed, vindictive madness.


space cadet said...

It all looks far from promising if this is anything to go by.

MattW said...

Not only 'build more 1 bedroomed flats' but some more 1 bedroomed houses and bungalows (with wide access for wheelchair users) would be great. I'm currently living in a 1980s build flat with little soundproofing and noise from above is driving me bonkers! Wanted to move to a house but there are very few to choose from that are affordable for a single tenant, even 1 bedroomed houses.

I remember storage being discussed on this blog frequently. All my clutter is taking up space in the spare bedroom. Unlike my previous 1 bedroomed flat, there are no cupboards (except for the airing cupboard). I could easily downsize to a 1 bedroomed place so long as there are plenty of cupboards for my stuff.

Another observation: Some of the lesser spotted Housing Association developments going up in my city tend to be 2 - 4 bedroomed houses. Very few 1 bedroomed/2 person homes seem to be built. However, plenty of the latter seem to be built in the private sector but these are very small. In a Taylor Wimpey development of 'reverse tardis' flats near me (NR1) the 1 bed flats would have made good sized studio flats and the 2 bed flats would have made good sized 1 bed flats! This development has open-plan kitchen and lounges, something I personally dislike.

Dan C said...

Just wanted to say thanks - I emailed you like 5 years ago when your blog was covered in national media. I was renting at the time, but getting help to buy. Anyway, not in a much better situation now, but blogging about it ( wanted to say thanks for the inspiration. Thanks! Glad to see you're still writing.


RenterGirl said...

Dan C - you're welcome. Hope things get better for you.

And Matt - hi. As you know, I have written extensively bout the issues of space, lay-out and storage in the past. Nothing is improving, although RIBA seem to have grasped the problem.

Anonymous said...

I can see the problems with the old-fashioned kind of boarding houses etc, but if there was anything equivalent to, say, the cheaper non-halls at uni (but without the restrictions) - even if not en suite I'd grin and bear it - with rent including bills & council tax I'd be in it like shot personally - though I imagine in practice some of these places may end up full of dodgy people (or in some cases respectable, normal people reduced to desperation by poverty and insecurity, as some of these people surely are).

Even better for labour mobility would be places you could rent by the week whilst working somewhere in temporary work where the rate was actually affordable (as opposed to hotel-type rates). Every plan I personally have about moving for work leads to the rent issue.

I believe there are private halls targeted at "young professionals" and recent graduates in London, but unfortunately the rent is set for these rare, mythical "young professionals" rather than real recent graduates, many of whom are lucky if they can get a full-time job on minimum wage these days :(