Space: The Next Housing Frontier?

When this press release came out from the Intergenerational Foundation 18 months ago I thought its suggestion was...well, faintly absurd.

The media made a lot of it, in some cases suggesting that the older generations ‘taking’ space from the younger population was somehow unfair. I felt it was an idea that was interesting but missed the point behind the so-called ‘housing crisis’ - which I have always felt to have been caused by too few homes, not a mis-match of size to household.

But perhaps I am wrong and the Intergenerational Foundation is, after all, bang on. Two things make me now believe that the think-tank may have been ahead of its time.

Firstly the Bedroom Tax (whatever we may call it and whatever we may think of it) puts ‘appropriate’ property size at the forefront of the housing issue. Using housing waiting list statistics it suggests that the relatively poorly off in ‘too big’ social housing are directly denying the even-less-well-off from having the ‘right’ sized home for their needs.

Then secondly this came along, at the other end of the social spectrum, to suggest more subtly that the wealthy are, perhaps, seeking to own ‘too much’ space via second homes.

Of course the CPRE’s agenda is a little different. It links second home ownership to the broader issue of more homes being required, leading to more house building, leading to the use of increasing amounts of green space and perhaps even Green Belt.

But the principle behind the CPRE’s attack on second home owners (which to my mind is one-dimensional and a bit small-minded) and the Coalition’s attack on some social housing tenants (which to my mind is just plain mean-spirited) really is one and the same.

It is that - in an era when there are not enough homes for everyone to have exactly what they want and where they want it - there is a ‘right size’ for which people should settle.
Want any more and you are, in some way, anti-social.

Is this how the housing debate is now moving? In a way it’s a good thing: it shows that there are more ways to solve a housing crisis than simply building more homes.

But it is, at least so far, a rather santimonious line of thinking. It’s only the not-well-off and quite well-off who should be criticised.

No voice has been raised against the oligarch with 10 homes with scores of surplus bedrooms (surely the target if you really want to have a go at excess at a time of austerity).

Likewise no voice has been raised against the private owner occupier (how many of the 65 per cent of British households have homes that are too big for them? - surely enough to make a real dent in the housing shortage if that was the aim of the thinking).

Instead, easy targets - the poor and the second home owner - have been picked on.

Perhaps that is the stuff of easy politics, whether by the Coalition or the CPRE. But perhaps it is just the start of things to come.

Maybe space really IS the next big housing thing, and perhaps the oligarch and the owner occupier will be next in line for pressure to downsize.

If so, it could make for interesting viewing as a nation which under Thatcher was proud to own and be as big as possible; and which under Cameron is being put in its (much smaller) place.

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