We need more flexible housing for 21st-century lives

The Great Australian Dream, underpinned by private home ownership, is a concept from the 19th and 20th centuries. Our housing stock was, and continues to be, designed and built for people who lived in previous centuries. The result is housing that discriminates and excludes, and that is becoming increasingly unaffordable. We need 21st-century housing that responds to the needs of 21st-century living.

The Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute (AHURI) report on 21st-century housing careers points to factors that are unique to 21st-century lives and which have direct impacts on housing. The greatest of these impacts is the risk society, a term originally defined by sociologist Ulrich Beck. As the AHURI report observes:

Change within economic and social structures has eroded the certainties of the previous Fordist or industrial society and resulted in a process of “individualisation” where individuals and households are increasingly confronted by the risks – and opportunities – of a rapidly changing social and economic environment.

These risks come in many forms: limited opportunities for ongoing employment, an ageing population and the uncertainty of old age, or separation and divorce from a partner. All these factors can significantly alter housing circumstances.

Without digging too deeply into the literature on Australian housing in the 21st century, it seems obvious that workforce casualisation and the gig economy are incompatible with 30-year bank loans for a fixed asset such as a house. Existing approaches to housing, from apartments to detached dwellings, are too inflexible. Instead, we need options for housing that are more flexible and can accommodate the risks associated with 21st-century living.

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Source: The Conversation