Comment: The naked truth behind bare minimalism in the housing crisis

Naked House will only provide buyers with the bare minimum to keep costs to a minimum, but are divid

Naked House will only provide buyers with the bare minimum to keep costs to a minimum, but are dividing walls really a luxury? - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Naked House isn’t a story about stylish minimalism, it’s a sad solution to the desperate situation the government has left London’s families

Last week I called for developers to think of the community when it came to building homes for people to live in, rather than leave to gather dust and value. This week Londoners have taken matters into their own hands, with the news that Sadiq Khan has endorsed a house building collective that’s putting community above profit.

The titillatingly named Naked Houseis a not for profit organisation who want to bypass the property industry titans by building family homes that do away with the fripperies corporate developers use to lure wealthy buyers and pad their margins. Prices will start at £150,000, and anyone earning under £90,000 can sign up to the scheme. If the Enfield flagship is a success, the scheme could be rolled out across London.

There will be no sparkling advertising campaigns or interior design packages available here. There will also be no interior walls or coverings on the floors. In order to cut down on building costs the proposed homes will be as bare as their name.

The trend for exposed brick has surely reached its zenith with the CGI renderings suggesting that the poured concrete floors and breezeblock walls can be styled out as gritty and urban with the addition of an artfully arranged bike and a book collection. Is this a stylish, crowdsourced solution to the housing crisis, or just one step above slum living?

To be fair, Luxury has lost all meaning when it comes to new builds. People don’t need or want high spec apartments with touch screen technology and Corian work surfaces. What they need is enough space to raise a family, and what they want may be quite different from the identikit styles offered by show homes.

Naked House makes a solid case for cutting out the middle man, but it’s a drastic one. A fitted bathroom and kitchen sink will be included so the homes will cover basic needs in terms of shelter and sanitary provision, but it will be up to occupiers to provide the rest.You have to wonder if developers will see how basic a level of accommodation people will pay out for and start introducing their own ‘naked’ packages.

It’s telling that one of the co-founders of Naked House has already resorted to living in a houseboat on Regent’s Canal. It’s a lifestyle that’s often romanticised but Spartan in reality. Four walls and a roof with enough space in between it all to raise children must look appealing when you have to sail your home to a new berth every couple of weeks to avoid getting fined.

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They are serious about the no-profit part: a resale covenant is written into the lease, so owners will have to pass the discount on if they want to sell up and move on. It’s a way to protect the scheme from buy-to-leave investors and buy-to-let landlords, but it also adds a layer of complication to selling up and makes getting a mortgage tricky.

The homes are designed to squeak in under the limits imposed by banks willing to lend on homes that small, making them an ill advised investment. Although buyers will own their homes, they won’t own the land they stand on, but will rent it leasehold from the council.

It’s a radical rethinking of the way we buy property in the capital, but does the Emperor, or in this case the Mayor, have no clothes? When partition walls are an expendable luxury you have to wonder how much lower we have yet to fall in our attempts to eek out a living in this city.

Building costs are spiralling because Brexit has weakened our currency. Land is unaffordable because it’s owned by the dregs of an aristocratic elite and overseas investors. Communities are crying out for more because social housing has been savaged by cuts from a government that is fundamentally failing the electorate.

The project deserves funding, but heralding it as a creative solution to the property crisis rather than a symptom does it a disservice when its own founders describe it as an idea ‘born out of desperation’. Desperate times call for desperate measures, but London’s families deserve better.