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Hooray for Bungalows Matthew Warburton - 02/05/2013

bungalow_300In 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 housing stock.

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 concerned.

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 thought."

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.

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