by Peter Franklin
Friday, 23
December 2022
Spotted
07:00

Living in the pod should not be an option

The housing market is driving young people into ever smaller living spaces
by Peter Franklin
Pod life. Credit: Getty.

“I will not eat bugs! I will not live in the pod!”

This is the ‘anti-Davos’ mantra — the rallying cry of those who reject the supposed neoliberal vision of the future.


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For those who prefer a more heroic version of capitalism — or who reject capitalism altogether — the idea that we should replace real food with insect protein, while cramming the urban workforce into ever-tinier living spaces is neither efficient nor sustainable, but instead sinister and dystopian.

So far, creepy-crawlies have yet to make a major impact on the western diet, but the notion that we’re going to end up living in pods is getting ever closer to reality.

This week, an article by Lauren O’Neil from Toronto’s blogTO website went viral. The author reports that escalating rental values are driving people to let (or sub-let) half a room. You too can have a bedsit in the big city, but it comes with an en suite stranger. And yet that’s a bargain that more and more cash-strapped tenants are willing to accept:

Sharing a bedroom with a sibling, friend or even a partner can prove challenging under the best of circumstances, but half-bedrooms might be a good solution for young people who want to live downtown without paying astronomical prices.
- Lauren O'Neil

The market is already primed in global cities that are full of young professionals who may have already shared with a room-mate at university. Further, compared to trendy co-living arrangements which involve sharing space with several people, sharing a studio apartment with just one or two roomies may prove less stressful.

Indeed, some argue that if renters are so keen to live in a prime location then we should allow them to make major compromises on privacy and space. This would mean scrapping regulations that stand in their way — for instance, limits on multiple occupancy, the insistence that bedrooms have windows or even rules on minimum ceiling heights. Think about all the extra square footage that could be rented out if standing room and natural daylight weren’t legal requirements!

So, if young people are willing to slum it for a few years in exchange for the opportunities and excitement of city centre living, isn’t that a valid choice?

Well, it does assume there’ll never be another pandemic. Going through lockdown in a pokey flat was bad enough for millions of people, but imagine being confined for months to half-a-room — or a windowless attic.

This isn’t just about young professionals with options. Though their complaints about the rapacious rental market are entirely justified, they at least have a voice. We hear rather less from the urban underclass of low-paid workers — for whom low-quality housing is a lifetime sentence, not something you put up with while having fun in your 20s.

If young professionals accept the pod, then that lowers the bar elsewhere for people whose choices are limited. What’s more, those choices are diminishing as higher-paid workers colonise the most affordable parts of our big cities (for instance, see the trends for London and Manchester over the last decade).

Rather than relaxing regulations, we need a crackdown. If big business wants to maintain access to the labour market then it must use its clout to drive down housing costs by getting homes built where they’re most needed. The market must not be allowed to offer the pod as an option.

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Matt M
Matt M
1 month ago

The only way to lower housing costs is to lower immigration. If it were possible to build at the required rate to accommodate the 500k annual increase in our population we have witnessed since 2000 – without triggering runaway price inflation – we would have already done so.

Last edited 1 month ago by Matt M
Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
1 month ago
Reply to  Matt M

I live in south Hampshire, and it feels like every piece of open ground between towns is getting developed for housing. It’ll just be one vast conurbation soon. And it’s still not enough.

Matt M
Matt M
1 month ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

Ditto Ian. I’m just outside Winchester. One new housing estate after another.

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
1 month ago
Reply to  Matt M

While I don’t disagree about immigration I think you could lower housing costs massively with a simple reform because the tax system incentivises hoarding and over-occupancy.

Impose a large surcharge on council tax for all properties with more than three bedrooms accompanied by a 100 percent discount for families with children in education. Thousands of large houses will then be converted back into flats (as many of them were fifty years ago).

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
1 month ago
Reply to  Hugh Bryant

Another simple expedient would be to facilitate easy provision of modern log cabins in gardens and similar spaces thereby creating new homes within existing sites (no new estates) and valuable income for existing stretched home owners. Of course it would require a degree of intelligence and decency sadly lacking in today’s greed driven, secular, small-minded society.

Russell Hamilton
Russell Hamilton
1 month ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

A log cabin sounds picturesque, but will it come with parking for a couple of cars, how much will rates have to go up as upgrading of water/sewer mains is needed to cope with a much higher population than originally planned. How many big trees will go (probably all of them) and how much hotter will that make the hottest summer days? As people make money from this plan and the backyards disappear, where will the future residents’ children play? As more people are crammed in, will the local school have enough room to expand or will it build on its playing fields? etc. etc.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
1 month ago
Reply to  Matt M

Of course it is also possible many other forces are at play in this scam: for scam it is! Greed, speculation, corruption and stupidity to mention just a few!

Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
1 month ago
Reply to  Matt M

I served on a local planning commission in Elk Grove, CA (pop 150K) for about 10 years. While I truly wish the border was not wide open, these are not connected issues. You do NOT need to solve immigration to solve the housing shortage. The problem isn’t “too many people”; the problem is that constructing houses is too expensive.
Building code reform will take you a long way to lowering actual construction costs. Environmental review reform (especially in CA) could correct many of the delays and expensive red-tape of the planning and subdivision process.
Our politicians doing either of those is about as likely as them actually enforcing the border though.

John Riordan
John Riordan
1 month ago
Reply to  Matt M

Not so. Most of the UK – even the relatively crowded south east – is undeveloped. There is no problem with finding actual physical space for 5 million more homes, nor is there any intractable problem with ramping up construction resources to develop faster (though this is not with some challenges, admittedly).

The problem is that the large housebuilders make their money by land-banking and throttling the rate of new build development in order to keep house prices high. What is needed is some sort of reform that provides different incentives to the building industry. There is also the NIMBY problem, but I suspect that Labour will solve that problem in a couple of years time when it gets into power and shafts every Tory-voting constituency in the country with new development permissions.

R Wright
R Wright
1 month ago

Immigration. Immigration. Immigration.

Tom Lewis
Tom Lewis
1 month ago

So what we’re saying is, the dystopian future (for low, or mid rank, cops at least) is less Harrison Ford’s Bladerunner, or Michael York’s Logan’s Run, but more Bruce Willis’s Fifth Element, only in a timeshare rent-a-room, and, as standards fall (sorry, expectations are reigned in, in the quest for equity) it will probably be shared with a family of eight, chickens and goats included (Complaining about cultural differences, or smelly goats, is a ‘hate’ crime. Knowing this, Bruce keeps his mouth shut, and not just because of the small, pebbly deposits left by the goats).
”You will own nothing and be happy” !!!

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
1 month ago
Reply to  Tom Lewis

I’d say it’s more to do with capitalism being allowed to run amok with no safeguards rather than a quest for equity to be honest

Jonas Moze
Jonas Moze
1 month ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Government spending in UK is 44.6% of GDP, that means all the people producing all they do about equals government spending – that is not really capitalism run amok, rather thee opposite.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
1 month ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

You got that right!

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
1 month ago

It’s quite probably just in the last hundred years that the majority of humans (in the West) have enjoyed more personal living space. Just as an example, my mother told me she shared a bedroom with her newly-married brother and his wife, c.1930!
Prior to that, most humans would’ve been pleased to share living space with many others, for safety and warmth.
How this affects us is on an animal level, and how this will in turn affect us on a psychological level will have unforeseen consequences.

Peter B
Peter B
1 month ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

You’re right that this is a big part of the pressure on housing – that there’s a large segment of the population (likely not a majority, but I’d put it at around 20%) who have quite a high living space per person (let’s say over 60m^2 per person for houses). Of course, no reason why they shouldn’t be able to buy more living space in a free country. But it’s yet more pressure on housing added into immigration (which is the driver of population growth), family breakdown, artificially cheap money and the government effectively propping up house prices with ludicrous subsidy schemes like Osborne’s “help to buy”.
I shared a bedroom with a brother for 16 years. Not a major problem. But apparently, this is now considered deprivation.

Last edited 1 month ago by Peter B
Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
1 month ago
Reply to  Peter B

My lovely home cost me €35k, fully serviced, fully furnished, well insulated. Think outside the box people..

John Riordan
John Riordan
1 month ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

Well yes, but the whole point of this debate is that one side of it – the sane side – doesn’t WANT to give up the gains of the last century. And why on earth would we?

The powers-that-be who envisage smaller and more limited lives for the rest of us are themselves failures. Their answer to rising resource use and environmental degradation is that we must all do with less – a political anti-solution instead of more of the technological solutions that have carried us this far.

The democratic answer to the people proposing this nonsense is to say that if that’s all they can come up with, they’re fired.

Last edited 1 month ago by John Riordan
Alison Wren
Alison Wren
1 month ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

As a young woman I went to see a flat-share near the Royal Albert Hall. There was one bedroom 4 tenants. Late 1960s. I opted for another place in Acton where I only shared my bedroom with one other woman. Sharing with men was definitely NOT expected though!!

John Riordan
John Riordan
1 month ago
Reply to  Alison Wren

These days there’s no point having a no mixed sex rule because each sex can self-identity however they want anyway.

Jonas Moze
Jonas Moze
1 month ago

2022

”“I will not eat bugs! I will not live in the pod!””

2033

”“I will not eat lab grown bugs! I will not share my pod!””

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
1 month ago
Reply to  Jonas Moze

2044: mmm soylent green again. Delicious!

Arkadian X
Arkadian X
1 month ago

There are only so many houses you can build in a city centre, though.

Jonas Moze
Jonas Moze
1 month ago
Reply to  Arkadian X

Not reall. London is endless sq miles of 2 – 4 floor high terrace houses with tiny back garden. Knock down 30, build a modern apartment building with underground parking – easy.

Deb Grant
Deb Grant
1 month ago
Reply to  Jonas Moze

The pods then?

John Riordan
John Riordan
1 month ago
Reply to  Deb Grant

No, not at all. Medium-rise apartment buildings can put twenty 600sqft flats with two bedrooms on the same land space as a 4 bed house. If you go high-rise it’ll be fifty of them – none of which require the sacrifice of personal privacy as a condition of residence.

The problem in London isn’t the availibility of land, but the provision of infrastructure for all those people. That’s not a defence of the existing system by any means, I’m just pointing out where the real bottleneck is.

John Dellingby
John Dellingby
1 month ago
Reply to  Deb Grant

The average number of flats in a high rise in the UK is 78. Assume that on average, these are occupied by 2 people or there abouts, you have enough homes for 156 people. Compare that to a block of terraces with gardens and such, you probably have enough for 40-50 at most? As far as inner cities go, building up is a no-brainer.

Last edited 1 month ago by Simon
Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
1 month ago
Reply to  Jonas Moze

Or convert the houses back into flats. Quicker and cheaper.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
1 month ago
Reply to  Jonas Moze

You forget people are unable to see beyond their noses and also have a hidden agendas! Simple, practical, highly desirable solutions abound but if you don’t want to see them they don’t exist! My home cost me €35k!

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
1 month ago
Reply to  Arkadian X

Building upwards uses a tiny footprint don’t forget.
2-storey high with front and rear gardens in a country as densely populated as England is a form of lunacy surely?

jmo
jmo
1 month ago

There will surely be another pandemic in human history. An insane reaction to it, however, is not a given. It’s disturbing to see that assumed.

Liam O'Mahony
Liam O'Mahony
1 month ago

Two points:
1. We already eat creepy crawlies; those that come from the sea. Indeed they are delicacies! Shrimp, prawns, lobsters and crabs.. if these are not creepy crawlies then I’m a Dutch man!
2. My perfectly adequate home cost me €35,000 fully serviced, fully furnished! Granted I have a dear friend who allowed me to have my 25m² log cabin in her huge garden. The basic cost was a mere €11,000.
It is clear that housing is a scam of monumental proportions with so many on the make, all preying on unfortunates who merely want somewhere to call home!

Betsy Arehart
Betsy Arehart
1 month ago
Reply to  Liam O'Mahony

Unless my math is wrong, that sounds like a pod to me! Undoubtedly cozy and livable

David Harris
David Harris
1 month ago

Meanwhile Khan adds £50 a week to work in London never mind live there. A lot of money for minimum wage earners. Labour are no longer the party of the working class.

Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
1 month ago

“If young professionals accept the pod, then that lowers the bar elsewhere for people whose choices are limited.”
I honestly hadn’t considered this argument before, and I think there’s something here. Once again, Mary makes me thing. Thanks.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
1 month ago

Reduce immigration, duh!

Paula G
Paula G
1 month ago

But it is such easy money! Think of the shareholders! Even John Lewis is focusing on real estate.

Wash, rinse, repeat, while getting the salaried classes to pay taxes to the councils to put up immigrants in the pods, so that they can work in the cities. You’ve got the politicians in hand to work the rules in your favour, after all. And if there is another round of Covid affecting those in cramped conditions, well then, more PPE millionairesses, wot?

The Elites want to get theirs, when everyone else is. They aspire to being Russian gangsters, or Mexican judges. Who cares if you live in gated communities like Brazil or South Africa. Money is being made and your family does not need to experience a decline in living standards.

Society can only learn from any foreign criminals we let in. And remember, government works for we rich elites.