Another day, another well-off older person reminding young people that our generation will probably always struggle to obtain the things our parents took for granted. Last year, it was Australian millionaire Tim Gurner asserting that if we just didn’t buy so much damn avocado toast, we’d be able to afford to purchase homes. This time, it’s Patrik Schumacher, company director and senior designer at the prestigious architecture firm Zaha Hadid Architects, positing that young people today simply don’t need living rooms. That’s right, living rooms have come under fire, because apparently the desire to have separate spaces in which to do basic things like eat, sleep, go to the bathroom, and simply chill is more than we should aspire to.
“For many young professionals who are out and about networking 24/7, a small, clean, private hotel room-sized central patch serves their needs perfectly well," Schumacher wrote in a paper titled “Only Capitalism Can Solve The Housing Crisis,” published last week by the Adam Smith Institute, a British think tank.
As Dazed notes, current laws in the U.K. prohibit developers from building apartments that are less than 38 square metres (about 409 square feet). Comparable laws vary from place to place, but in New York City, for example, a legal bedroom must measure at least 80 square feet with a ceiling height of at least 8 feet. However, this hasn’t stopped landlords from creating illegal bedrooms out of spaces intended to function as living rooms and hallways. In his paper, Schumacher argues that abolishing such laws could solve the housing shortage that has plagued cities like London in recent years. Schumacher also says there are “no rational, pragmatic arguments” that suggest young people need more space than this, and that anyone who has a problem with young and/or low-income renters being “forced” to live in “rabbit hutches” or “slums” is being “emotional and rhetorical.” Yikes.
What Schumacher, who probably penned his essay from the comfort of a large or at least multi-room home, fails to acknowledge is that smaller apartments don’t necessarily equal cheaper apartments, especially when it comes to crowded city centers and other highly desirable locations. For the most part, housing in these places isn’t unaffordable because apartments are too large — anyone who has lived in New York, London, or San Francisco can attest to the fact that a studio or small room in a shared apartment can easily cost $2,000 a month — it’s unaffordable because the system is broken.
Most city dwellers are paying a premium not for the apartments themselves, but for the land they’re built on. Allowing developers to build increasingly tiny apartments on said land is therefore unlikely to result in prices going down. If anything, renters will just end up paying more and getting less.
While many young people already do live under circumstances similar to those Schumacher is prescribing, it’s not something most of us aspire to. Just like the generations before us, millennials understandably look for a reasonable mix of space, convenience, comfort, and safety when it comes to where we live. And that’s really not too much to ask.
Blair Brandt, co-founder and CEO of Next Step Realty, a New York-based firm that caters to millennials and recent college grads, says the young people he works with aren’t interested in living in spaces with no room for recreation, even if doing so might mean saving money on rent or living in a more desirable part of town.
“People make an enormous effort to ensure they do have a living room and do have a space other than their bedroom to reside,” he tells Refinery29. “The city is very expensive, so people don’t necessarily want to be constantly out and about. If you only have a bedroom, you’re going to be eating every meal out, having every drink out. For people in their 20s, recent graduates, and entry-level professionals, they need to have an escape from the city itself.”
Brandt makes an important point: Even if making apartments smaller did somehow allow for tenants to save money on rent, if you live in a glorified closet, you’re not going to want to spend much time there. Not only is this potentially bad from a mental health standpoint, it also means you'll definitely be spending more money on food and recreation, which isn't reasonable for someone on a budget.
Many young people have spoken out against Schumacher’s argument via Twitter. User Brendan Redmond, a U.K.-based designer and photographer, writes: “Patrik Schumacher's vision of life in cities is deeply depressing and his naive faith in the "market" would be hilarious if it wasn't so destructive.”
“Note the complete absence of consideration for whether living in a teeny tiny box is healthy (as well as working all the time, as seems to be the self-serving assumption),” writes lawyer Martin Dillon.
The Adam Smith Institute, however, is standing by Schumacher and his assertions. “Your minimum standard is actually a minimum cost you are forcing others to bear,” a spokesperson for the institute told The Independent. “Think of those businessmen that commute into town once a week and basically use the room to sleep in and nothing else, if they rent a flat at present they have to take one bigger than they need. That means more space is taken up than often they want or need, and that means higher rents and higher prices for everyone else.”
When was the last time you heard someone in a major city complain about all the housing options being too spacious? And why does Schumacher have to argue that young people in particular should be the ones who must downsize? While there may be people in the millennial age bracket that don’t feel strongly about having a living room or other recreational space, the onus shouldn’t fall on an entire generation of people to give up living comfortably in order to solve a crisis that isn't its fault.
The housing shortages that are impacting cities around the world is a serious problem worthy of creative, outside-the-box thinking. But there has to be a way to solve it that doesn’t mean expecting an entire group of people to live in places where their shower is in their kitchen and their bed doubles as a dining room table. While, obviously, not everyone is lucky enough to have a living room or other type of recreational area, to suggest that it's asking too much for people of any age to aspire to living in such a space is patently unfair.