We should share housing for longer

Unless you’re an impossibly wealthy plutocrat, or a smug baby boomer who bought in the 90s (much the same thing), browsing a real estate website is incredibly depressing. It’s like listening to Adele while watching this video of a sad kitten and peeling onions into the shape of Nicholas Sparks.

Until the bubble bursts – which may never happen – huge numbers of Australians below the age of 40 will struggle to buy their own place. For many of us, a house with a backyard, or even an apartment with enough rooms for a couple of kids, is out of reach unless we go to regional areas or live on the outskirts of major cities.

A recent study found that home ownership for 25­–34 year olds dropped from 56 per cent in 1982 to 34 per cent in 2011, and for the same age group, the mean debt to income ratio ballooned from 115 per cent to 241 per cent. Those numbers are nearly as shocking as the price of an uninhabitable terrace in Sydney’s Surry Hills recently.

Home ownership is becoming a far away dream for many who are not lucky enough to still be living with their parents at the age of 30 and saving every penny. Something has to give.

Clearly, the Australian dream of a house on a quarter-acre block is a long way off for many of us. So what’s to be done?

One option is to load yourself up with debt, and hope you can make the repayments. Except many young people, even university graduates, face significant career instability these days.

Fortunately, there is another way, even if it involves abandoning, or perhaps deferring, the Australian dream.

Share housing has traditionally been something we do when studying, or entering the labour market – but given the cost of housing, it’s probably something more of us should do for longer.

After all, the idea that we all need to move into owner-occupied homes is a relatively recent one in our cultural history.

Sharing sometimes is more a bed of dust mites instead of roses, of course. But it’s a lot easier to get out of a lease than a mortgage.

When I look back at all the years between moving out and settling down, I definitely have the fondest memories of my years in share housing.

When I lived alone, I had plenty of space and time to myself, but I didn’t do anything especially worthwhile with it. In hindsight, I should probably have stayed sharing with friends until I got married, which, of course, has provided me with life’s ultimate fulfilment – a permanent share house.

And let’s not forget that there are other people we can share with. Our parents and grandparents are the ones who’ve benefited from the dramatic boost in property prices, with many of them becoming paper millionaires. So maybe they should share some of those sweet, otherwise-empty rooms that they bought on the cheap?

In many other countries – India, for instance – married couples traditionally keep living with one set of parents, generally the groom’s. While this might not provide much in the way of the West’s much-desired personal freedom, it means low living costs – if any. You share your meals, there’s built-in childcare, and ultimately, it offers a solution for aged care too.

Plus, if the proximity gets a little stifling, you can simply hand the kids over and go out to blow off a little steam. And while you’re out having a few drinks and venting, I can guarantee that your friends will be biting their tongues so they don’t make a scathing remark about the free housing you’re getting.

Growing up in Australia, it’s hard to fight against the notion that success in life means having your own place. But if you keep sharing until later in life, not only is your life likely to be richer, you will be, too.

Which makes it far more likely that you’ll be able to save up enough to get a place of your own someday. If you ever need one.


Originally posted at SBS Life

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