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.