By Michaela Bygrave, MSc MRICS, Pointe Michel Ltd
Originally published in BSA Society Matters Magazine - Winter 2020
House builders don’t think about family dynamics, cultural needs and disability when planning homes but they should. Diversity must be taken into account when building the homes of the future.
Research from major housebuilders shows only the minority actually want to buy their product. However, it is a large enough minority for housebuilders to keep building. In failing to deliver a diversity of housing to match diversity in communities, we are closing the door to new homes that meet the needs of many who identify in part by ethnicity, culture, age, disability, lifestyle, values or simply taste.
The coronavirus pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement have both shone a light on ethnic minority housing conditions in the UK. Early in the pandemic, data showed that black people were up to four times more likely to die of coronavirus. There were also higher rates for certain Asian ethnic groups.
Although there are many reasons for this, housing conditions were identified as playing a disproportionate role, particularly as studies showed that black and ethnic minority households are more likely to be overcrowded. At the same time, the Black Lives Matter movement was highlighting how racism was also impacting people of ethnic minority. For these reasons it is worth looking again at housing equality, and how custom and self-build could be part of progress.
Housing diversification, including custom and self-build, is likely to have the most positive impact on those who are least well-served by the current market. The 2011 Census data showed that black, Asian, and other ethnicities were far more likely to live in households of adults with dependent children than white households.
In addition, multi-generational living is the norm for more ethnic minority families. This ranges from around 67% of over-70s living with younger relatives in the Bangladeshi community to around 33% in black communities and just 8% of white people over-70.
Multi-generational living often necessitates both upstairs and downstairs bathrooms and a second reception room that can be used as a bedroom when climbing stairs is no longer possible. This need is rarely met in off-the-shelf new-build homes.
Build the way you want to live
Designing their own home would give families the opportunity to build the way they want to live, instead of how they have to live due to the narrow view of family life represented in most new homes. For example, for many ethnic minority families the common open plan kitchen design can be problematic. This is because the kitchen is the heart of the home and forms a space where visitors are not usually received. Being able to design the kitchen as an enclosed space is an example of just one way of allowing families greater breadth of cultural expression within their own home.
This unmet demand represents an opportunity as well as a need. There is currently a sizeable market of families making do with existing stock, either by overcrowding or extending, because their needs are not being met by volume housebuilders.
However, the most profound reasons for delivering custom and self-build plots are self-actualisation and housing justice achieved by homes which actually suit their occupants, things not currently offered by our broken housing market.
Mine is one perspective on one part of the challenge. As I set out at the start, many others will also find the new build market closed to them and their voices must be heard. Planners and local authorities have given this too little thought until now. This needs to change.
Michaela Bygrave is a RICS Registered Valuer and runs her own consultancy firm Pointe Michel Ltd focussed on projects that promote socially responsible outcomes. Her email is email@example.com
The Right to Build Task Force has an advice note for planners about BAME housing and custom and self building https://righttobuild.org.uk/resources/advicenotes/
Anyone interested in self building should start by signing their local self build register – find yours at: www.righttobuildportal.org