The importance of maintaining a neighbourhood in generation rent

Conversation surrounding ‘generation rent’ has been prevalent in recent months. In fact, according to the Resolution Foundation’s ‘Home Improvements’ report on current trends, up to half of people now could be renting into their 40s and a third by the time they retire. The likelihood of purchasing a house after this is very low.

This trend is a stark contrast to past generations. As it stands, 40 per cent of people are renting privately at age thirty, double the rate of Generation X, and four times that of the baby boomers. Whilst this is a fantastic business model for those that own multiple properties and consequently become landlords, and the ideal living situation for people who don’t want to be tied down to one city, it can cause problems. When people aren’t committed to living in one property for an extended period of time, they often don’t make a concerted effort to establish relationships with their neighbours, leading to a lack of community within our city centre dwellings.

Why don’t we know our neighbours?

As people decide to rent long term, they can be living in a property for only a few months, something entirely dependent on when the landlord might want to sell, and consequently providing little stability. The six and 12 month contracts which are ordinarily put in place in a rental agreement mean many people do not grow roots where they are living and therefore do not attempt to establish relationships with their neighbours. In fact, it was just last week that The Huffington Post revealed that two thirds of people don’t know their own neighbours. But is this transient lifestyle totally to blame or does the property developer play a role in this?

The news is rife with stories detailing the poor mental health experienced by young people, with millennials more likely to suffer from anxiety or depression than generations past; a key driver of this is isolation. Spending all day in an office to go home to an empty apartment day after day can be detrimental to a person’s wellbeing. When we consider that this is a long-term situation for many young people, it’s clear developers have a role to play in rectifying this.

What can property developers do?

The way many buildings are designed, particularly apartments, leads to a certain level of isolation. Hundreds of identical units, with no communal areas does not lend itself to establishing a sense of community. Property developers can help mitigate this in a number of ways. Including communal areas, such a socialising area, gym or shared gardens at design stage will encourage residents to integrate and create a sense of community within a development. As most apartment developments are in city centres, a good idea would be a communal workspace. With an increase in freelancing and flexible working amongst the younger community, this would be a huge selling point for apartments.

We are seeing an increase in this mentality being adopted by some property developers, with properties coming with a gym and shared social space as standard and can anticipate this being adopted by more in the future. Many developers however will question the financial benefit of this; is losing out on valuable rental space commercially viable? Whilst we see the benefit of including these spaces, what can the sceptics do to create a sense of community? The considered inclusion of a commercial space on the ground floor of a development can be a great investment opportunity, whilst also helping generate a sense of ‘neighbourhood’. Rather than adding a convenience store, in which people will spend 10 minutes, consider including a coffee shop or affordable restaurant. This will encourage residents to socialise together, whilst providing another source of revenue.

It is also worth considering including some green space within a development. We are seeing living walls being used more and more in city centre developments; this is a great way to incorporate green spaces into an area where the building footprint is limited and a garden is not commercially viable. Living walls not only provide aesthetic benefits to properties but can improve wellbeing and the quality of air in a building. If planning allows, a roof top garden is also a great selling point for a development, although it will require additional maintenance costs. Importantly, green roofs can be used to harvest rainwater to be used for non-potable water purposes within a building, such as toilet flushing, further adding to a developers green credentials.

What elements create good communities?

Something else we’re seeing an increase in is placemakers or community engagement officers within developments. Whilst this is something CityBlock has always done within its PBSA, this is being translated in the private residential market. With the sole aim of creating communities, these individuals are purposed with making sure residents within a development don’t isolate themselves within their apartments. Events, clubs and activities are set up within the communal areas, creating an urban neighbourhood. These events can range from book clubs to yoga classes, through to barbeques and quiz nights.

By considering the inclusion of tools that help create a neighbourhood, property developers can create homes that are more attractive to those looking to purchase a property as well as being one step ahead of the game in the future of living for young people.