a paper on housing and intergenerational fairness published by think tank
Policy Exchange this week, Alex Morton makes the case for
building more bungalows.
The "humble" bungalow, he argues, has repeatedly been shown by
polls to be the most popular form of housing - typically 30 per
cent of people say they would like to live in one. And the
preference is even higher among older people. But current planning
rules on density all but rule out their construction - only 300
were built in 2009 - and they form just 2 per cent of the nation's
Why is this important? Morton's wider theme is the widening gulf
between the housing conditions and opportunities of older and
younger households, and the worrying prospect that
intergenerational inequalities will widen further as housing supply
continues to lag behind demand in all tenures.
With house prices continuing to rise faster than incomes, a
falling percentage of younger households can afford to buy;
meanwhile people able to buy twenty or thirty years ago when the
price to income ratio was more favourable are now ageing in
increasingly valuable family homes that are larger than they need
now that their children have grown up.
Between 1991 and 2011, the proportion of home owners among 25 to
34 year olds fell from 67% to 47%, while among 65 to 74 year olds
it rose from 62% to 76%. Morton quotes an estimate that there are
25 million "spare" bedrooms in homes occupied by over-65s; even
allowing one spare bedroom per household for visitors or carers
there are still an estimated 18 million spare rooms.
Cutting the housing benefit of underoccupying tenants merely
nibbles at the margins of this issue, since claimants over pension
age are not affected and the great majority of the underoccupied
homes in question are owner-occupied. Some might argue that if
Government subsidy is not involved we should not be
Morton disagrees; for him, access to home ownership is central to
the Conservative vision. "If those who work hard and 'do the right
thing' cannot aspire to a good family home it destroys the
aspiration and opportunity that provide the backbone of Tory
Reducing underoccupation would not increase the overall number of
dweilings, and only a drastic improvement in supply could make
houses more affordable. But it could help to make better use of the
housing we have and release many more good quality homes for
families with children.
The problem is, says Morton, that the smaller homes currently
being built are just not tempting enough to persuade older owners
to downsize. Healthy and active over-65s are not ready to move to
sheltered or supported schemes, and flats, particularly if newly
built to today's meagre space standards, are just not attractive to
householders used to a garden front and rear. Hence bungalows.