Written as a guest blog for Bristol Housing Festival
Shared housing or Houses of Multi Occupation (HMOs) in urban areas are often the standard housing offer for single people on low incomes. With ownership unattainable, wages stagnating and unemployment (or at best insecure employment) becoming commonplace, young people (18-to-35-year olds) are at the sharp end of the UK’s housing crisis.
The use of shared housing and HMOs as a housing offer for young and/or single people in our cities has become the norm. People’s expectations over the last few years have shifted from expecting to be able to rent self-contained accommodation to understanding the only viable option is to rent a room in shared property.
Unfortunately, shared housing/HMOs tend to have a poor reputation due to their connection to anti-social behaviour, clustering of HMOs in urban areas with high levels of deprivation, poor condition of accommodation and poor management of the buildings and tenants.
Most shared housing outside of the student sector is owned by small landlords and is a result of converting existing family accommodation into shared housing.
However, such accommodation was never designed for sharing, thus issues of bedroom inequity, poor storage, lack of enough toilets and bathrooms, noise transfer, limited communal areas which are often of poor quality and high running costs, mean the experience of living in an HMO can often be perceived negatively by single people, local authorities and the general public.
The rise of co-living projects follows significant growth in this sector in the USA and now across Europe; indicating that single people are more often making intentional choices to live within a shared environment.
The benefits of moving into an already established community, especially for people moving to a new area, and lower rental costs will see this market grow. This is even more true where single people have struggled with lockdown and the lack of connection with others. Co-living occupation has remained strong in the UK throughout 2020.
Unfortunately, even in this market, co-living schemes tend not to charge a genuinely affordable rent, and so are still out of reach of many on low–to-average earnings.
Hope delivered through purpose-built shared housing
The main sector developing and managing purpose-built HMOs is student housing. There are numerous examples across the county of large and small HMOs which universities operate successfully and that are liked by students. Indeed, many students, when leaving university, expect their next home to be within a shared community.
Purpose built HMOs can be designed to offer the best of communal living whilst at the same time providing decent-sized private bedrooms, well-designed living spaces, good thermal and acoustic performance, and lower running costs.
Crucially, by achieving higher densities using, say a townhouse model (large terraced house with 3 to 4 floors), combined with use of modern methods of construction, it is possible to develop new shared housing that can charge rents that are affordable for people on low incomes.
Low-cost housing can also increase mobility by enabling households to access employment opportunities – releasing people from the benefits trap.
In a post Covid world, people are reconsidering how they live, how much they are prepared to pay on rent, desiring sustainable housing in line with personal values, and realising the mental health benefits of living more communally.
This creates a huge opportunity to deliver good quality, yet affordable, shared housing as a key segment of the build to rent sector – developed and managed by ethical, professional providers who are committed to meeting the housing need of our essential workers, young people in housing need, and others on low incomes who have few other choices available for them.
Hear more about a LivShare purpose built shared housing project here.