Is Student-style Housing a Viable Option for Non-students? 1

Friday, October 16th, 2015
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How would you like to live like a student again? The cost of housing in some cities, such as London and Sydney is making that option a reality. According to interior designer and TV personality Naomi Cleaver, student-style with communal spaces could help to alleviate London’s housing affordability crisis.

London’s housing supply has not kept pace with demand for many years. According to a report by the group London First, the city’s population increased by one million people in the decade to 2014, yet only 202,400 new homes were constructed in that time. A report by KPMG and Shelter states that “changing demographics mean we need to build a minimum of 250,000 new homes per year in England to meet rising demand. Last year, we built just 110,000.”

Coupled with inadequate supply, prices for homes play a role as well. The New Statesman noted the gap between the average annual wage of London workers, “around £30,000, depending on what part of the city you measure – and the average London house price – £458,283, according to the latest government stats – as evidence of a market that is out of control.”

How would student-style housing address the problem? According to Cleaver, developers have been enthusiastic about student housing blocks, but as the market becomes more saturated, they are looking to move into other residential projects. They have also started to embrace a higher level of design in order to better compete. Adapting the form for non-student adults could provide better amenities than the typical flat, as Cleaver’s iQ Shoreditch project shows.

iQ Shoreditch features a variety of room types of 17 to 28 square metres. All rooms include en suite showers, and the project has 23 social spaces, including a rooftop lounge. There are no kitchens in rooms, apparently, but bicycle storage and wi-fi are included.

Another example, perhaps more appropriate for non-student adults, is the Scape project from Ab Rogers Design. Located on London’s East End, the project features a high level of style. Though rooms are small, up to 12.5 square metres, they contain a kitchenette. The project also has two restaurants on site, as well as extensive common areas.

In theory and in practice, these projects share some traits with co-housing, which is another design solution for maintaining some private spaces, while sharing some spaces with other residents.

Determining how much space is enough seems to be a tough call, depending on factors such as local services, restaurants, transport, and so on. Tiny house enthusiasts are able to include two lofts, a full bathroom, and a washer/dryer unit in about 20 square metres.

Australia’s expensive housing market has been compared to those of London, Vancouver, and other similarly expensive cities, so perhaps student-style housing could provide a cheaper housing option in Sydney and Melbourne. Lindsay David recently wrote in The Guardian that “Sydney median house prices have hit $1m for the first time, according to the latest Domain Group House Price report.”

However, there is evidence that limited supply is not the real issue, or not the whole issue. David also asserted that excessive speculation and debt have created the perceived lack of supply.

“Australian households have borrowed colossal sums of debt to finance an all-in bet on property speculation,” he wrote. “This is the real cause of high prices, not a phantom shortage.”

To support that contention, David referred to research by LF Economics concluding that “Australia has had a cumulative oversupply of housing since real dwelling prices began to boom back in 1996.” The company performed research “calculating the flow of new dwellings to new households on a quarterly basis, adjusted for demolitions, secondary homes, population growth and demographic change.”

The research offered clear evidence, David wrote, that the global financial crisis sparked a “temporary shortage” and that mining towns experienced a shortage, as well.

“Outside of that,” he noted, “Australia has constructed more than enough homes.”

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  1. Howard Styles

    It's all been done before. Canberra in the 1960's needed new accommodation for the re-location of government departments. There were thousands of student type rooms built with shared facilities like; lounges, bathrooms, laundries and cafeteria style dining. Tony Abbott's recent Canberra home was in what used to be called 'Lawley House' designed as hostel accommodation for public servants. Ironically the best 1960 example with 600 residents on the main drag became ANU student accommodation when governments started to back away from sensible involvement in planning.