In the 1960s and 1970s architects designed a maze of gigantic housing estates stretching from Elephant and Castle to Peckham.
When the buildings were complete, you could walk from the Aylesbury Estate near Elephant and Castle to the North Peckham estate via the Elmington Estate in Camberwell using elevated pedestrian walkways without ever touching the ground. The architects’ visions were deeply utopian: people from all walks of life living side-by-side in a city in the sky.
Three decades on, we all know how that turned out. Now the property sector has a new utopian vision: purpose-built rental homes. Those at the top insist this revolutionary asset class, known as build to rent, is not only filling a huge demand - but it may be the solution to the UK’s housing crisis.
Property bigwigs’ argument goes that kids these days are desperate for more rental property - they’re a fast-moving bunch who don’t want to be tied down by mortgages or chains or choosing curtains. They want short-term rental contracts and USB ports and to keep doing their laundry in communal areas, ad infinitum.
There is a problem with property’s latest utopian vision: millennials themselves. They may be more focused on Instagram than their parents - but they’re just as focused on home ownership, not least because property yields far more than the paltry interest their savings have mustered over the past decade.
This was borne out in focus groups by one building society, which suggested millennials are as frustrated as anyone, including the parents many of them live with, at their inability to climb the property ladder, with under-25s saying home ownership was one of their three main aspirations.
The sector indulged in a hearty round of backslapping when, this week, Legal & General announced its build to rent fund had raised another £170m, bringing its grand total to £1bn. But institutions’ vision is misplaced. Property ownership is deeply ingrained in the British psyche. There’s no asset less risky than bricks and mortar. Millennials care just as much about their money as anyone else.