More People in Smaller Spaces

As we strive to accommodate more urban residents, workers and commuters, the spaces they occupy will have to adapt: becoming smaller, going higher - or both.

Increasing urban populations are having a significant impact on city lifestyles. Ever rising property prices and a shortage of affordable rental housing mean that overcrowding is prevalent.

As we strive to accommodate more urban residents, workers and commuters, the spaces they occupy will have to adapt, becoming smaller, going higher - or both.

What we said in 2016

"There is an increasing number of multiple-occupancy households. More than 500,000 households now contain three generations - that's a 30% increase in the number of multigenerational households in the past decade."

"Many people crave a house with its own garden, the cost of land means that more city dwellers will be living in tower blocks. Some 263 towers of more than 20 storeys have been granted approval, are under construction or are built across London. The vast majority - 81% - are residential."

"While many people may baulk at the idea of shrinking homes, there is an expectation that lifestyles will evolve to better accommodate smaller living spaces."

Looking Back

When we looked at this subject three years ago, multigenerational households seemed to be a logical way for families to own properties.

But we've seen such growth and diversity in multiple occupancy - particularly in rented properties - that the reduction in available living spaces has become a serious challenge.

This has been accelerated by a confluence of two social trends. Affordability: the increasing gap between house-prices and salaries and Availability: the continued shortfall in affordable social and private housing stock to meet growing rental demand.

Where we are now

The lack of available/affordable housing has seen an evolution in the nature of multiple occupancy. From 'mature adult,' house shares to families sharing family homes with other families (often not their own), we are seeing the acceptance of reduced living space as a way of making housing affordable.

Sadiq Khan's 2018 London Housing Strategy has identified the emergence of around 150,000 'Concealed Households,' in London: groups of people living as part of other households because they cannot afford their own place to live. It's estimated that 250,000 homes in London house around 380,000 distinct 'family units'. The impact? 22% of children in our own capital city are growing up in overcrowded homes. And 80% of overcrowded homes are rented.

A key issue facing Local Authorities is the number of properties they need to provide to meet growing rental demand. Hence, any concept that reduces build time and cost is attractive to Local Authorities. Experts suggest that a shift to low-cost prefabricated housing won't only help councils combat the housing crisis, it could also help to bring prices back within reach of first-time buyers.

October 2018 saw the UK,'s first micro-home estate of 16 modular, single-occupancy 17.25 sq.m 'cabins,' get the green light in Worcester. Developers behind the £1m project believe it could provide a template for solving housing shortfalls across the UK. More importantly, it could provide a glimpse into the future of entry-level housing as, not only will overcrowding in our cities change the way we live, we believe it will change our expectations of what is acceptable in terms of living space.

What's Changing

Three years ago we saw 'building tall/thinking small,' as a design challenge for architects and designers. But it's the innovative minimisation of space that's emerging as a way to overcome the UK's housing crisis.

UK new-builds already have the smallest by floor area in Europe, but we're seeing far smaller homes being created: leading to increased media coverage of trends such as 'Rabbit Hutch Britain,' and 'Shoe-box Homes,'.

The nationally described space standard for single occupancy is 37 sq.m. However, the growth in office-to-residential conversions is slashing the amount of advised living space by up to two-thirds. As the conversion of urban office blocks is not covered by usual planning or space-standard requirements, we're seeing tiny 'studio flats,' of just 13sq.m being shoe-horned in by developers.

We are also seeing the emergence of pre-fabricated starter-homes with just 26 sq.m of living space. In a cross-over with our Super Landlords theme, Insurance giant Legal & General is behind the production of these factory-built units which are located in Richmond - where the average semi-detached costs £1m and the rental of a single single one-bed flat costs over £1,000 a month. The new pre-fabs are aimed at young, single, urban workers earning between £20,000 and £40,000 who don't qualify for social housing and are priced out of buying.

Indeed, as Local Authorities and developers alike seek to solve the Affordability/Availability equation, 'micro-housing,' has the potential become the norm for people striving to gain a foothold on the property ladder.

How the story has developed