Could Micro City Living Solve the Housing Crisis?

UK housing minister Gavin Barwell told an audience at a fringe Tory party conference event that micro living might be part of the answer to the UK’s housing crisis – at least when it comes to city workers being priced out of their preferred markets.

Mr. Barwell said that innovation was sorely needed to help solve the crisis and that smaller homes could be the key to getting younger prospective home-owners onto the property ladder.

“I don’t know if anyone’s seen any of the schemes that Pocket housing [Pocket Living] have done where they’ve basically done a deal with the GLA [Greater London Authority] to get some flexibility on space standards,” Barwell said. “As a result they can offer a product well below market price.”

That flexibility is reducing the minimum standard size of a flat from the around 500 square foot for a one-bedroom flat to 400 square feet.

“Now look: most people, given the choice, would like to live in a nice big home. But I think for many young people – if I was 22 today, I would rather have the chance to own that than be priced out,” Barwell added.

Of course, the thought of owning a tiny part of your favourite city – for the still eye-watering sum of £250,000 for a one bedroom flat in London – may not be everyone’s perfect idea. However, there is certainly some evidence that demand for smaller spaces is higher than you might think.

First of all, there’s Pocket Living, the company that was namechecked by the housing minister. Their building rate is pretty impressive and demand for the finished article is strong too.

At the time of writing they had six developments, four of which are fully reserved. Criteria for buying a pocket apartment is to live or work in the borough in which they are building. So, while the spaces on offer might be small, at around 20% below the average market price for a similar, but ‘full-sized’ apartment, they could help cities up and down the UK that are in need of more affordable housing, quickly.

But, it’s not just a London phenomenon. The US has lead the micro-sized apartment charge for the last few years and demand for those homes doesn’t appear to be waning, nor is it expected to anytime soon.

Two years after being built, a range of 225 feet square apartments in a shopping arcade in Providence, Rhode Island which is south of Boston on the East Coast of America, the waiting list for the tiny apartments is still a long one. That is a rental list, however, which suggests that if micro living is to work in the UK, builders shouldn’t just be targeting the home-buyer market.

Indeed, this could be an easy way for the Government to help BTL landlords out – perhaps by ruling out homes under a certain size exempt from the new stamp duty rules. It certainly would be a way to help investors who want to grow their portfolio and also the UK’s growing army of renters – that a report from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) says is going to surge to 1.8 million by 2025.

Of course, party conferences are a great stage to air ideas and gain support. Whether or not there is enough support for micro living remains to be seen, as does how willing the current Government and housing minister are to push forward with it as an ‘innovation’.

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