Friday, 27 April 2018

A simple (part of) the solution

The UK population is growing by more than 500,000 people every year but only about half the homes required are built. I believe there is one key reason behind the UK housing problem: a lack of apartment living. But it’s possible to change this. I’m originally from Greece and one thing that has struck me about the UK is that British people dream of living in houses.

As the chart below shows, just 14% of British people live in apartments. This is one of the lowest percentages in Europe. In Germany the figure is 57%, in Spain it is 66%, and the Euro area average is 48%.
At first sight, this seems like a good idea. My only quibble is with the title of the piece, "The simple solution to UK’s housing problem – apartments." Simple? Really? I very much doubt whether there's just one simple solution to such a complex problem. To be fair, the article does talk about wider issues, like the need for rent controls and stronger tenants' rights as a prerequisite for turning flats in the private rented sector into proper homes.

But building more apartments does seem like a sensible part of the solution. As the article acknowledges, a shift in mindset is needed, so that flats aren't just seen as the sort of cramped, shoddy places where you'd only live if you had no alternative, so we're talking about building properly designed quality homes. Having lived in a flat in the past, these would be my top three suggestions for turning flats from those unloved boxes from which most Brits aspire to escape, into proper homes:

  • Abolish leasehold for residential properties. Even this government seems to be inching towards doing something about landowners jacking up and creaming off ground rents, but the whole leasehold system is a worse than socially useless subsidy for the rentier class, and it needs to go.
  • Decent soundproofing is a necessity, not a luxury, for people living in high-density accommodation.
  • Put balconies on flats (or patios, if ground floor). I'm no gardener, but one unanticipated thing I grew to love about moving from a flat to a house was the patio. Just having a little bit of outside space of your own really does a lot to make your home feel less claustrophobic. Of course, in a block of flats, this is the one area where decent soundproofing won't help if your neighbours are making an unholy din on their balconies but inconsiderate people is a whole other problem to which there's definitely no "one simple solution."