Micro movement or shift in society?

The media lit up recently when U+I launched its compact living solution for central London. In a bid to combat the unaffordability of homes in Zone 1, the scheme proposes mini flats with a floor size of either 19 or 24 square metres built in blocks with shared communal areas. Research suggests building just five blocks of the micro properties in each of the nine London boroughs could provide 4,770 extra homes in the centre, providing a possible solution to the affordable housing crisis which exists in the capital, if of course the homes are affordable…

The scheme has already been met with some criticism. Although more people than ever seem to be prioritising location over space, the size of these properties has come under fire. I recently read an article about micro-properties being the equivalent in size to one tube carriage, which had the same theme; can people really be expected to live in such small homes?

I believe individuals are focussing on the wrong part of the debate; we shouldn’t be looking at the total amount of space available, but at how the space is used and for what. Perceptions of whether a living space is large enough totally depends on the person and how they anticipate using it, the amenity on offer within the building and its locale, the location, distance to work and the design.

I was going to sit on the fence for this one, but on further refection and especially after rubbing shoulders with some of the 60,000 people at Web Summit in Lisbon this week (many of whom are global citizens and young entrepreneurs in tech), we’ve concluded that “considered micro-properties” that satisfy demand from a certain segment of the market, are not only necessary but also desired.

There are already some well-considered examples, including those by Zedpods here in the UK or Atelier Tekuto in Japan, which have been built for the rental market and which meet that sweet spot between affordability and a positive living experience, ability to be delivered in good locations and with essential amenities. Pocket Living is another developer with a refreshingly alternative approach, the company’s ‘Pocket’ homes are discounted at a minimum of 20 percent of the surrounding areas market price and are only for first time buyers living within the Borough, providing a real local solution for London’s first time buyers.

The “Permitted Development Rights” (PDR) act introduced by the Government in 2013 provided legislation to allow builders and developers to change the use of buildings without the need for planning permission, including changing offices into residential accommodation. Since the act came into force the number of micro-properties – homes smaller than 37 square metres – in the UK has increased dramatically. Almost 8,000 were built in 2016, the highest number on record, according to Which? analysis of Land Registry data. Although some leave a lot to be desired.

Recognising that there is a housing shortage in the UK, and especially in cities where house prices are becoming increasingly unattainable for many, micro-properties do contribute to providing one of the solutions. Maybe not for long term renters or purchasers, but certainly for a segment of the market that is more transient, still figuring out where they want to live and those that are happy to forgo space in favour of location or communal amenity space. This comes with the proviso that developers have the right intention and are focussed on design and using the space in an intelligent way, a way in which facilitates a positive living experience.

Wherever there’s an opportunity to take advantage of planning loopholes, someone will. We strongly believe these individuals and businesses mustn’t be allowed to further fuel the affordability gap for those on lower incomes wishing to live (renting or buying) in a decent, well designed, safe and clean home in a suitable location.

Maybe co-living is a solution. For a similar price to renting a room in London tenants could rent micro-properties that are built within a co-living environment, giving them so much more for their money. If tenants are required to fit all of their household amenities; a place to work or study, as well as relax; and space to go about all aspects of daily life and socialising with others into the same 30 square metre four walls, they are undoubtedly going to feel claustrophobic in no time at all. But if these needs are catered for outside of their apartment but within the building, then a micro-home may well feel like a longer term, more sustainable solution. It’s all dependent on developers’ ability to cater for their renter community and being genuinely mindful of the living experiences and wellbeing of their buildings inhabitants.

As previously mentioned in my article ‘Co-living: trend or fad; revolution or re-visitation?’, cafés and co-working spaces have become community hubs for workers and students alike, alongside people who live alone or are new to the area. Amongst millennials with a co-living mind set, relationships quickly form, and friendships and connections are made, fending off feelings of isolation. If developers can harness this mind set and create residential buildings that provide functional and well-designed amenities, creating “points of collision” that result in resident interaction, then there is most certainly a case for micro-homes – sleep in a small space and live with others in the rest of the building.

I am confident that the times really are a-changin’. The momentum of the ’co-movement’ is going to escalate – so it makes sense that developers do more to consider and deliver on society’s priorities and requirements for the future of living.

Charlotte is moderating the panel discussion on “The Co- Revolution” at The Class Conference 2017 in Lisbon on 16 November 2017.