Housing beyond the bachelor

Many still harbour dreams of homeownership, but rising costs may make it a niche market. (Photo by Adele van Wyk)

Many still harbour dreams of homeownership, but rising costs may make it a niche market. (Photo by Adele van Wyk)

What happens in those quiet moments? I can’t be the only one who fantasizes about what life could be like for me down the road. I have this soppy vision of a custom-built house in the side of a hill, with wildlife and gardens and the smell of the sea, where I would be happy. Then I read the Globe and Mail’s housing report and projections, and that dream is treated to an intense reality check.

Simply put, trends show that being able to afford a house with a yard may not be within reach of many young families as time goes on. There is a good news/bad news feel to this problem. A great many of my friends appreciate living in an apartment; it fits low cost-of-living mentalities, but many speak of a ‘someday’ when they are married and looking to start a family. As this kind of life moves out of financial reach, I am left uncomfortable with the reduced possibility of attaining life goals, like owning property and maintaining my own independent dwelling.

Still, are these goals realistic? Do they match up with our generation’s values? Surely we want the smallest ecological footprint, an ultra-simple existence that bases more on networks than on possessions.

Homeownership is not an easy idea to leave behind. There is something about a spacious dwelling that can be complex, customized and decorated meaningfully that has become a part of our human identity. To some extent, all apartments run into frequent incursions between tenants because one person’s floor is another’s ceiling; in a house, noise disturbance is curbed heavily and separation allows more room for personal growth.

Not a lot can be done about rising costs. It seems to be our generation’s burden to slow inflation and re-commit our economy to actually economizing resources. Inevitably, a major resource is livable space, and the current manner in which it is allocated ensures that the people who need land and space the most (presumably to raise kids and food) are often incapable of purchasing the space, or will never own it in their lifetimes. The idea that the banks own, through mortgage and loan alike, the majority of private property is a heinous fact that will bury us in time. They determine all prices, and will profit at any social cost.

Living under constant threat of eviction from apartments and dealing with costs of urban life can make people risk-averse and stymie the unfolding of one’s life. In some ways houses are not much better as the maintenance costs add up, but many take solace that renovations often increase the value of the building. Between equity and resale, houses make much more sense in terms of how effective efforts and dollars are when investing in a living space.

Stepping away from the individual, we might ask ourselves about ecological impacts. On one hand, humans congregating in large centres may mitigate the effects of our population explosion, balancing land use with protected wilderness. Yet living in concentration is not something humans seem to do very well; our refuse is concentrated, our food supply is expensive and wasteful and violence is rampant.

Not everyone who wants a family thinks of a white picket fence, and not every aspiring homeowner lives for the pitter-patter of little feet. Still, this ‘housing shortage’ promises to play a role in our cultural and social psychology. I am hopeful that the market can be regulated over time to reflect the needs of humans, not the size of their treasury.

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Josh Fraser

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