Thursday, January 20, 2011
We have in the United Kingdom new planning restrictions on multiple occupation (somewhat similar to those in Belle Terre but centrally facilitated). These now make it possible for local authorities to restrict three or more sharers from living in a house in a neighbourhood that is already ‘saturated’ with multiple occupants.
I can (and often do) discuss the rights and wrongs of this for hours and so I was fascinated by an article by George Monbiot, a thoughtful, often crusading environmental journalist, on under-occupation of housing. As his article explains, this is an issue that is rarely discussed, except in the context of public housing where elderly occupants may be incentivised to move to smaller housing, freeing up family-sized accommodation for others in need.
Yet, according to Monbiot’s research, in the UK, 37% of the housing stock (nearly 8 million homes) is under-occupied, defined as residents having two or more spare bedrooms.
In a spacious country this may barely raise an eyebrow but the UK is a crowded island, where only a minority live in large, detached homes. Monbiot discounts divorce, falling fertility rates or a growing elderly population as causes and comes up with a prime suspect: money. As he puts it: ‘the richest third of the population has discovered that it can spread its wings’. Politicians wary of the grey vote even provide tax incentives to living alone even while societal benefits might be gained by greater sharing. With so many young people renting together and unable to buy a home, the ‘battle of the generations’ is inevitably also taking spatial form.