We need to look beyond tenure to really understand people’s housing aspirations
There is a lot of interest in understanding people’s housing aspirations – after all, knowing what people want is the first step to delivering housing that will meet demand. But aspirations are not just about the physical characteristics of a dwelling; they are multi-faceted and encompass practical and emotional factors. The UK Collaborative Centre for Housing Evidence (CaCHE) is working on a number of projects to gain a better understanding of aspirations. The first, “Understanding reconfigured aspirations, expectations and choice”, has focused on exploring what we mean by the term ‘housing aspirations’ and whether they are shifting as a result of the changes that have taken place in the UK housing system in the last ten years.
It is clear that the concept of ‘aspirations’ is often used interchangeably with other terms such as preferences, expectations, and choices. We think that there are actually important differences between these terms, and have been working on unpacking what we really mean when we talk about ‘housing aspirations’. Although a lot of factors go into shaping aspirations for housing, we sum these up as a mixture of individual-level and societal-level processes. For example, someone’s experiences growing up may mean that they are disposed towards a particular housing form. Similarly, peer-group influences across the life course impact on what we see as a ‘normal’ housing pathway, with associated aspirations tied into that. More widely, in the UK there are strong social norms for homeownership, which is constructed as a crucial part of a ‘successful’ lifestyle.
We see housing aspirations as developing through the interaction of these ‘subjective preferences’ for housing, and broader structures of politics, the economy and society. Here, the role of the State is crucial, because particular policies, regulatory frameworks, and financial structures reinforce the dominance of homeownership as the end-point of a successful housing pathway. Our point here is really that for someone to express an aspiration, it must first be thinkable and within the realms of possibility, and State action plays a significant role in creating the possibilities that are open to people.
We believe that it is important to challenge the dominance of tenure as the central focus of understanding housing aspirations. Whilst individuals may continue to express strong aspirations for homeownership, even in a context in which it is increasingly out of reach for many, we do not have a good sense of what it is about ownership that is attractive, and whether the same perceived benefit could be delivered through other housing forms. Security is a good example, and recent reforms to the private rented sector in Scotland represent an opportunity to see whether this can be delivered in other ways. We also need further research into people’s experiences of living in the private rented sector and how this interacts with housing aspirations over time, particularly for those on lower-incomes – this is being considered by a second CaCHE project, “The impact of being unable to become homeowners – Generation Rent”. Finally, a third project – “Monitoring changes in the UK private rented sector” – is investigating the potential for big data to increase our understanding of the contemporary private rented sector.
About the research
CaCHE is a multi-disciplinary partnership between academia, housing policy and practice, working to produce evidence to contribute towards tackling the UK’s housing problems.
More information about all of our projects – including full reports and policy briefings – can be found at www.housingevidence.ac.uk.