When it comes to housing, Londoners face multiple challenges. Demand for homes remains high and significantly exceeds current supply. Rental rates have soared, and what little is available varies significantly in quality.
This means that options, especially for people on low incomes or who have been homeless, are very limited. Many have no choice but to take rooms in ‘houses of multiple occupancy’ with people they don’t know, or live in spaces that are too small.
One symptom of these housing pressures is the rise in overcrowded households.
Overcrowding means that more people are living in the same room, or a particular sized space, than government standards deem acceptable. Shelter give a good explanation of the specific rules here. It is most common in London, where over one million people – half of which are children – live in overcrowded homes.
Overcrowding disproportionately affects people on lower incomes. It can severely impact mental and physical health, and can also be dangerous. The tragedy of a recent fire in a three-bed flat in Shadwell – in which eighteen men were living and one died – has thrown this into sharp relief.
Furthermore, overcrowding and homelessness are linked in several important respects.
Firstly, both clearly demonstrate that the lack of affordable housing options in London. People do not choose to be homeless, just as they do not choose to live in overcrowded properties. Both issues could be alleviated substantially if there were more homes available at affordable rates.
Secondly, people living in crowded and unsuitable accommodation are less likely to sustain their tenancies, raising the threat of homelessness. We see this a lot in our own work: untenable living conditions are a very common cause of homelessness for our customers. They may leave because they feel unsafe, or because they are around others whose behavior makes their life difficult, or because other informal arrangements with friends and family feel preferable. All these possibilities can heighten the risk that people become homeless.
Thirdly, people impacted by homelessness may be offered temporary accommodation by councils which is itself overcrowded. This is not always the case, but it does happen and can cause significant distress and discomfort when it does. This is particularly concerning when the people impacted are vulnerable, or have experienced past trauma.
Everybody should have their own space where they feel secure and comfortable. Rates of overcrowding in London show that for many this is not a reality, just as homelessness figures demonstrate the same thing. The two issues sometimes directly intersect, and undeniably share many of the same structural causes.
One clear solution, as alluded to already, is to create more affordable homes. This would provide people with more choice and mean that they do not need to accept overcrowded, poor-quality housing. It would make it easier to provide emergency accommodation when needed, and help reduce homelessness overall by providing options that people do not currently have.