Last month, property developers U+I announced plans to build micro housing for rent in central London, noting that they were currently in discussions with several inner London boroughs. The benefit, they say, is that the low rents allow people to save up to buy their first property. Their developments would be targeted to achieve the Mayor’s London Living Rent; an attractive option when Londoners are currently spending 40% of their income on rent. This week, we look at whether micro housing could provide a solution to the UK housing crisis.
The Case for Micro Housing
A micro home is typically defined as a home that is less than or equal to 37 square meters, which is the Government minimum size for a one bedroom dwelling. Developers of micro housing create specially designed space-saving interiors, and may offer communal living spaces as part of the 37sqm.
Many councils are attracted to the idea of micro housing, which has been presented as a way to lessen the housing crisis, and meet the rising demand for housing in inner London. A report by Development Economics, commissioned by U+I last month, found that micro housing built on 45 proposed development sites across nine inner London boroughs would house 3,555 more adults than typical accommodation built on the same sites. The benefits in terms of job creation and facilitation, they say, are huge, estimating a total £202.5 million per annum household expenditure being brought in by their proposed micro housing developments.
A central benefit of micro housing is that it is typically modular housing, meaning they are built off-site and then transported to the site ready-built with relative speed and ease. This avoids lengthy periods of construction and associated disruption to the local area typically seen with conventional developments.
For developers, a key benefit of micro housing is that it can be offered at the same price per square metre, whilst still becoming a more affordable option for residents – and thus a potentially more palatable option for local authorities. As such, micro housing could facilitate councils reaching their housing targets and meeting demands from local residents for more affordable housing options.
Moreover, the prospect of owning one’s home, albeit much smaller, is attractive for those looking to get onto the property ladder. Unlike U+I, property developers Pocket Living build 38sqm micro housing for sale. Their micro housing, which is intermediate affordable, allows individuals to get their foot on the bottom rung of the housing ladder, and bridges the large price gap between renting and buying in London.
The Case Against Micro Housing
Yet there are a number of problems with micro housing. For one, Sadiq Khan has this month rejected homes which violate the Government standard of 37sqm. He has, however, partnered with Pocket Living, and invested £25 million in modular micro housing of over 37sqm in August 2017.
Tom Copley, member of the London Assembly, wrote in the New Statesman this week, “there is a fine line between innovation and desperation”. Government standards on the size of a one-bedroom flat exist for a reason, and the mental health risks associated with micro-housing, caused by confinement and living in such close proximity to others, are high.
Furthermore, once a precedence has been set which violates government standards on housing size, micro housing could become the norm. Where micro housing becomes the most affordable option on the market (even advocated by the Mayor as intermediate affordable housing), the groups most affected by this precedent become those with low-incomes. Given the associated risks to mental health, arguments could be made that micro housing poses a disproportionate threat to low-income groups, who may have no choice but to accept the small space at the expense of their mental health.
With the housing crisis growing, micro housing is just one of many options to increasing housing choice. Indeed, it is even becoming an attractive option for middle-income earners who would be willing to trade size for location, simply to remain in the major UK cities. As more developers turn to it as a development opportunity, this is not the last we’ve heard of micro and modular housing.