bed by window in concrete room

City Dwelling.

Rents in big cities now cost more than most people can afford.

Should we now be looking more creatively at housing provision?

Is it time to explore, create and support wider alternatives for city dwelling?

Locked out of a quality (and even basic) rental market people are adapting to new ways, new places, new styles of living. And there are some ‘creative’ dwelling alternatives out there. 

These new initiatives and enterprises creatively address at least part of the problem – which is better than not at all.

Social enterprise/innovation is part altruistic, part business.

It benefits society in that it can be created and accessed quickly through websites and apps. In some situations it provides a creative and innovation solution that actually works.

It may be different, it may be not for everyone but social enterprise is a bottom-up response. It fills a gap, it creates new openings.

Unlike local government, social enterprises are trim operations. They can zip in, set up and be active in virtually no time at all.

If the shortage of quality housing is set to continue, what kind of homes will ‘we’ be living in the next 20 years?

The Guardian provides insights into some of the new ways of living, homes and housing.

Some have been specifically designed, some are ad hoc, others have passed from being a temporary fix into something more permanent.

House-sitting is one solution.

Rather than pay rent, why not live rent-free in someone else’s house?

House-sitting offers people regular stints in comfortable accommodation. The only tasks involved are: to water the plants, feed the pets and keep the burglars at bay. 

It is temporary accommodation.

This is not your home. You are a guest in some else’s home.

But it is somewhere ‘to live’.

It suits people who care flexible and who enjoy the freedom of living in different locations.

On the plus side you get to live in up-market high-end homes and it can become a regular, recurring sojourn.

In a housing crisis another alternative form of accommodation is to sign up with something like Homeshare UK.

The concept is based on matching a homeowner ( usually an older person) who with someone (usually younger) who needs somewhere to stay. In return, the younger person offer an agreed level of care, supported and assistance.

The vision is for: ‘a kinder, stronger society built around people sharing their lives, skills and homes’.

With safeguarding in place for both parties it is a win, win situation.  It helps homeowners to live independently for longer, they have company and they get to help out someone who has nowhere to live.

Others have gone all out with a very different approach.

They convert a van into a home, or a boat, or a roof top as somewhere to live. No address, no council tax, no rates… but also no base, no utilities, no fixed location.

Where there is a perceived gap in the market, there is also an opportunity – for individuals, social entrepreneurs or developers. 

City living in a disused factory or office space may not appear to be des res. But in New York loft-living is trendy and chic. Once seen as edgy and raw for alternative types it is now very much main stream. And much sought after.

In a city, people can be ‘creative’ in how they see a housing opportunity. But only if they can get in before the big developers.

The Hoover Building in London is a successful example of re-purposing of a high-end factory space. 

There are many examples of hotels that are already down this road. They pitch the ‘experience’ and novelty of staying somewhere that was once a jail, a cinema or a factory.

It seems that people are open to exploring something different, and something special. The latest conversion of the TWA terminal at JFK airport certainly falls into that category.

Partly it comes down to a desire for novel experiences- and partly down to what people can afford. Where the two meet it proves that people may be more open to living somewhere ‘a bit different’.

Almost any building anywhere could be turned into viable housing.

With a caveat. It is not about rounding up people and shoving them into any old industrial space. Job done!

It has to be designed. It has to meet their needs and it has to work.

Legislation must address issues of empty retail space and the desolation of the city.

Unlike other European capitals, in Belfast, people do not live in the city. They live in the suburbs.

We might all have to let go of the idea that one day we will have our own apartment/house, or share with friends (as in Friends).

The question is: What is your base line in space, facilities and location?  

In this respect unscrupulous landlords are continually pushing (and exploiting) the boundaries of tolerance. A window-less room? A bed in a kitchen? 

The Collective looks at renting in a city, and then turns it on its head.

Think flat share multiplied by several hundred = Co-sharing.

For that you get a (very) small room with ensuite and a kitchenette shared with one other.  

You have access to  other facilities – lounge, restaurants, gym, outdoor space, laundry etc. This is high-level student accommodation for professionals ( on a good income). 

Rooms can be rented short-term or long-term. For those who are new to the city who don’t know many people it offers an instant social circle, of ( probably) like-minded people

This is a purpose-built serviced apartment for city living where most people cannot afford to live alone.

On the plus side these spaces are high-spec, well managed, and provide a social setting and facilities that people want and need – in a digital age. 

On the down-side, they are ‘hotel-like’ impersonal spaces. Most people are passing through. Others may get stuck in this  style of living and cannot move on. Almost like the perennial student.

There was a time when residential style housing was associated with a ‘care’ situation. But that has all changed.

People are now thinking ahead to plan for their needs, and exactly who they would like to live with in the future. 

Older Women’s Co-Housing, opened in London in 2016.

This is a group set up by women to provide women-only housing.

These older woman live in their own apartments with shared facilities and shared inputs into cooking and gardening. This type of city housing aims to aid social connectivity to ensure people are engaged and mutually supported.  

You can be alone, and together, you have your own space. But you also have company and activities in-house.

This solution suits people who are actively involved in the decision-making, development and running of the community.

It is not managed by an outside body so the residents have both ‘ownership’, and independent living.

For women over fifty, who cannot face moving to a ‘Cocoon’ environment, and simply want to get on with their lives, this model has a lot of appeal.

It’s not a kibbutz, or a cult, or a commune. It is simply a forward-thinking approach to future housing needs – one where people plan for what they want.

Where health and well-being is often affected by loneliness, it is in everybody’s interests to keep people out of hospital and to keep them happy and well.

This is not an entirely new concept.

400 years ago monasteries such as The Charterhouse provided almshouse accommodation, support and community. Which they still do today.

Are we living in a time of new and innovative ways of living?

Or, is this simply an example of necessity as the mother of invention for ‘generation rent’?

Perhaps it is a bit of both.  

As city demographics shift and change this affects lifestyle and housing.

Good ideas create better solutions. This spurs change. Which may require a shift in how much we are prepared to change our set views/ways/systems/expectations.  

Generation Z have very different expectations and views for life, work and leisure from Baby Boomers.

While not everyone wants to be a travel blogger or  nomad, it is an option that didn’t exist 20 years ago. Just one example of changing work/life relationships and an indication that we work/live in very different ways from our parents. 

Housing needs are at a critical point.

There is simply not enough housing to go around.

We need greater understanding of what people want, what they will accept – looking forward to what is affordable – and what is not.

But, with blocks in the housing system we may reach many, many tipping points before we hand it over to the next generation.

Nuala Rooney

I am designer, educator and researcher developing creative and holistic human-centred insights within the social/spatial sphere.

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.