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Running for the hills: young people canít afford to buy or rent, so they are building their own houses

Joe Smith

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April 13, 2016

We meet members of Generation Rent who have given up on the housing market and private rental sector and are living illegally off-grid.





With real earnings falling, house prices rising and more young adults living with their parents, it seems like the only way anybody under 30 will ever be able to own their own home is to sneak off into the woods and build it for themselves. I speak to a couple of members of Generation Rent who have done exactly that.

Young people are screwed. We’re just never going to own houses. Here are some numbers. This year’s economic review by the ONS shows that, while in 1987 just 9 per cent of those aged 26 to 30 were private renters, that number had risen to 39 per cent by 2014. In the 1980s, less than 20 per cent of 21-25-year-olds lived in private rents, now it is more than 60 per cent. In 1996, over half of 25-29-year-olds owned their own home, now it’s less than one third.

Young adults (aged 20 to 34) are now more likely to be living with their parents than at any time since 1996. And to cap it all, in 2013 the real earnings (adjusted for inflation) of people in their 20s were 12 per cent lower on average than those in their 20s in 2009.

When faced with the prospect of living with your folks well into your 30s it’s no wonder that some young people have got creative about finding an affordable place to live.

Jamie’s house sits on the green, southern slopes of an Oxfordshire valley under the spreading branches of a giant oak tree. It is a cosy wooden structure, completely off the grid with solar panels, a wood burner, rainwater collector and a composting toilet.

Jamie has spent five years living on this piece of land. Although it’s not much bigger than a large garden shed, Jamie is proud of his tiny home. He should be; he designed and built it himself. The only problem is, he isn’t allowed to be there.


 At the bottom of the valley sits a sweet little village, the kind of place people retire to. Jamie tries to stay hidden from his neighbours – he feels his unlicensed cabin might not go down too well in the village where the average house price is over £371,000, according to property website Rightmove.

Jamie, who is 28, works as a musician, photographer and carpenter. He says he likes the challenge of living without the on-tap amenities most of us are used to:

“Living off-grid you start with the most important things. So to begin with that’s staying dry, staying warm, being able to cook food – then afterwards come things like being able to use your electronics and stuff. These are all necessities which at some point you’re going to have to address. You have to work it out yourself, which can be pretty difficult when it doesn’t work but it does mean that once these systems are set up you know them inside out because you’ve made them yourself. I think that engenders a lot of resilience in your living situation.”

Jamie’s decision to live this way is in part an environmental one. He wants to live as lightly on the land as possible. But there are other reasons too. “From my point of view, rents are unaffordable and mortgages are unaffordable. I think it’s an inflated cost that doesn’t truly reflect the real value of these things, so purely on an economic level it makes a lot of sense,” he says. That’s something that informed my decision to live off the grid and to do something for myself.”