Have you ever been paid and then had to hand the money straight back to your boss? This is my current situation. I’m an architect, I design homes and unsurprisingly live in one myself. Recently, however, I’ve been working for a property developer who just so happens to own it.
Unlikely as it seems, the sheer ubiquity of housing associations now render this bizarre relationship an absurd reality for many architects. But like most people, constantly confronted with monthly rent, we’re certainly not the only ones working for landlords. So what's the problem?
Around the corner from my house, sprayed to the side of an old brick wall, there's some unmissable, giant, red graffiti. ‘SOCIAL HOUSING! NOT SOCIAL CLEANSING!’. It concisely lambastes our lack of affordable housing. And although it’s true - there’s hardly any - as we all know, some of us can afford luxury whilst others can only dream of it. So what is an affordable home?
When it comes to renting, Government currently states that it’s simply one that costs no more than 80% of the average local market rate. What then, you might ask, is that? Apparently it’s an average set solely by the good ol’ western gospel of market economics: supply and demand. A low supply with a high demand pushes prices up. We’ve got more people needing homes than homes themselves, the prices skyrocket, and we have a housing crisis.
So if you’re drawn to the dazzly lights of the city, if you want a decent salary and a short commute, you’ll know that it comes at a cost. An incalculable cost, it seems, simply for the privilege of a place to call home. A home that genuine marketplace competition could help to reduce. But the costs of construction are now so high and the demand for a suburban abode is such that it simply doesn’t exist.
Alas, all landlords are on the same greedy page and the idea of a price drop, come strategy or even, God willing, empathy, remains highly unlikely. In fact there’s probably more chance of Boris Johnson starting a grassroots campaign for trans rights this year. Because after all, this is business - profit first, people second; and beggars can’t be choosers when their homes are hailed as the king commodities of capitalism.
Unfortunately then, for most of us, this doesn’t bode well. And thanks to private property developers, the subsequent urban evacuation of the poor continues. Meanwhile, forever failing to address the root cause of this issue, almost rubbing salt in the wounds of the working class, Government’s 20% discount code remains mostly meaningless in a broken, dog eat dog industry. Clearly then, perhaps even understandably, with no further restrictions in place, no conscience nor market competition, these western corporate cowboys will continue to build our homes purely for profit.
In absence of the policies that could help us out, the complete privatisation of this industry will inevitably continue to corrode the common good. Promoting and incentivising greed, this broken housing sector has long since normalised the mental health woes of our time. To cover excessive rent and bills, it’s now easier than ever to get trapped in a dead end job.
We get the Monday blues and thank God it’s Friday. We get stressed, anxious and depressed. Some of us even lose the will to live and may quickly find ourselves jobless and homeless. With nearly 50% of Americans on prescription drugs and almost 25% of us here in the UK, something is clearly profoundly wrong in society.
Add this to oil spills, exploitation of the third world, an entire ocean of plastic and the routine deforestation of the Amazon rainforest, and it’s no surprise that many of us now truly believe we’re doomed.
But if we’re simply willing to address the root psychological cause for this crisis, if we’re finally willing to come together and focus on an actual solution, rather than mere palliative, prescribed treatments - all be them charitable - at least we’d have a fighting chance at saving ourselves.
It’s our failure to do so which prolongs our undying, false hope in a corrupt system that routinely ignores this issue. If we are, in fact, contributing to the common good, then surely, at the very least, we’d expect to see more social housing?
Yes, schools, health care, railways and roads are important. But albeit conceptually sound, an increasing percentage of the population is fast growing tired of a taxation system that forcibly squanders and sucks our hard earned cash into a murky vacuum of vanity projects, black budgets and ‘defence’.
If the government isn’t capable of solving the housing crisis, how about we solve it ourselves? What if we now had the opportunity to create a far better, more transparent, optional and democratic way to contribute to the construction of our homes? What if, with special thanks to the internet, we could build homes and provide them freely to people, as a human right - without the involvement of government and property developers?
At first this may sound like mere utopian, blue-sky fantasy. But in the twenty first century, at a time of profound digital connection, a social media campaign alone can be more powerful than any government or private interest.
Never before have we been so capable of creating strong online communities and the rise of social media alone now provides us with a genuine, collective opportunity to stray from the profit driven path of property investment.
Crowdfunding, as it's known, can provide the construction of our homes an immunity to greed simply by connecting a critical mass of the population, and forming a truly democratic housing network. A simple network that empowers a conscious, online community to co-create homes for people not profit. Bringing entire populations together for the formation of a progressive, holistic and benevolent mindset at the very heart of the housing industry.
With this lofty vision in mind, naturally, as an architect, I had to draw it. I wanted to go beyond communes, estates and standard semi-detached housing. I wanted to present a new, more exciting and balanced housing model. Because as things stand, we can either live together or we can live alone, but ultimately we seek both, for we seek connection and we seek our own space. So in response to this and to reports of widespread loneliness, a recent rise of suburban co-housing supposedly sought to strike this balance.
But after a few months at one such place - the collective - my short stint was blighted by excessive rent and no real sense of community. The spatial experience, however, inspired me to improve upon it and embark on my own co-housing project.
So I picked a suburban site, studied the local area and created a hypothetical co-housing scheme in Waltham Forest, East London. I’d lived here once before, but over the years, through new builds, patisseries and pop-up galleries it was barely recognisable. The re-opening of a local train station had since magically transformed it into a gold mine for developers and the area was now fitting for a genuine response to the routine gentrification of our suburbs.
With revolutionary water technologies, hydroponic food and waste-to-energy systems, this scheme would be unique in offering true autonomy for residents. Private en-suite studios, creative and communal spaces would become freely available to online subscribers through application.
From the misemployed to the homeless, people from all walks of life would gain the opportunity to receive appropriate contract lengths. Initially offering shorter stays, tenants would first gain respite from financial debts, dead end careers and gain the valuable time they need to learn new skills, get back on their feet and turn their lives around.
Connecting people for this global mission to freely provide shelter, energy, food and water would ultimately create a sustainable co-housing movement towards the reduction of poverty and the alleviation of mental illness simply through the provision of true freedom in society.
Over time, with longer contracts and more projects around the world, naturally, residents would continue to seek employment to pay for the things they want. However, with their basic human needs at hand, a better work-life balance would rarely force them into unfulfilling, dead end jobs just to make ends meet.
With the proposal now complete I eagerly booked an event space, prepared a talk, sent out flyers and posted it online before finally presenting this vision, in autumn 2016, to precisely three people.
As the weeks went by, the enormity of this task began to dawn on me. At first it seemed like a formality - I'd simply host events, write about the campaign, create marketing videos and build a strong social media presence. Then soon, surely, just like other popular YouTube channels, connecting millions of people around the world, this humanitarian vision will have gained the global audience it requires, I was wrong.
If we genuinely want to resolve this housing crisis - and indeed many other ongoing issues - we must first begin to address the psychological incentives that create them. But instead of fighting capitalism, this transitional co-housing model alternatively employs our economic model to dissolve itself. Decommodifying basic human needs as basic human rights.
The rise of this simple, alternative solution will demonstrate true, progressive social change and subsequently help to pave the way from a state of scarcity, greed and destruction towards a more balanced, just and abundant world. A post-pandemic world created by co-operation, devised by democracy and crowd sourced by an online, global community comprising anyone who’d like to help make it happen.
Individually we’re powerless against the problems we face, but together, we’re powerful. And today, right now, we have the communication technology to effortlessly resolve this crisis and many others that needlessly perpetuate the unnecessary suffering we experience on this planet. So why wait for social change, if we can create it ourselves?
If you’d like to be a part of this change, please help out by joining in today and connecting to this grassroots, revolutionary co-housing network at humanityconnective.com. In a developed society, everyone should have a basic right to exist, together, we can make it happen.