Ariel photograph of housing estate

Coronavirus: Changing the way we think about housing

Will our perception of what makes a good home change as a result of coronavirus?

Over a fortnight into the ‘lockdown’, worries about social distancing and the ability of those who aren’t fortunate to have their own outside living space to get outdoors, have brought into sharp relief an aspect of housing policy which has perhaps been overlooked in recent years.

Targets to built 300,000 homes a year nationally and debate about the appropriate method of calculating housing need have overlooked a more basic question: what makes a house a home?

Having spent more time at home in the last two weeks then I can ever remember, my answer to the question is very simple: space.  The space for my family to come together and play games, the space for each of us to go and do our own thing and most importantly, the space to go outside and enjoy the Spring sunshine, play some swing ball and enjoy a BBQ.  All things that I spectacularly took for granted in the BC (before coronavirus) era.

And I’m not alone.  My social media feeds are full of either rage against people who dare to venture to a park for some socially distant sunbathing or puzzlement as to why police officers are stopping people, who may have no other access to outdoor space, from getting some well-earned fresh air.

Statistics from The King’s Fund (2016) suggest that around 87% of UK households have a garden, with the average garden size being 14m2 (according to The Horticultural Trades Association).  The ‘garden-gap’ could well become the ‘affordability-gap’ of the post-Corona era with policy makers and home buyers questioning the desirability for greater urban density, without any real access to private outdoor space.

It has the potential to draw into question the underlying assumptions of what type of housing communities are being asked to host.  Should we be focussing on high-rise apartments in city centres, dense housing blocks in places like Wirral Waters or co-living developments where shared living space is the raison d’etre?  For that matter will co-working spaces retain their BC allure?

The increasing popularity of new homes demonstrate the desire for people to own their own home; including the private outdoor space that comes with it.

Perhaps one silver lining from the current crisis will be a rethink about what truly matters for UK housing policy.  Not just the number of ‘units’ being built across the country but also the type of homes we want to build.

It won’t make the housing debate any easier but perhaps more of us will accept the desirability for more family housing – even if that does ultimately mean, building on the Green Belt.