No place like home

David Lett explains why the housing crisis needs more attention

Shelter is considered one of three basic physiological needs of any human along with food and clothing. For much of our evolution we sought out any shelter we could find to meet our need for feeling protected and safe. The quality of the shelter we acquired directly impacted how long we might live.

At some point in our history we decided to use the term Home to describe this shelter and to shape varied and multi-layered meanings for what a Home meant to us. The meaning of the term Home became richer in its human definition and beyond simply being a place that protects us from the elements, other animals or humans. It came to reflect the type of person we are, the place we hold within a community (or society), our wealth, our tastes, our interests, and/or our hobbies.

What a Home means to each of us is diverse and matters greatly. As humans, we seek meaningful life experiences and many of these are centred on and influenced by where we live or the Home we live in. In more recent times, a new meaning has emerged – the belief that our Home is also an investment asset, one that grows in value over time and one that we can realise personal wealth through.

It could be argued that our pursuit for wealth through our Home combined with a house building programme that produces too few houses each year has fuelled a housing crisis. However, both of these elements (an investment focus and too few houses being built) is also fuelling a more serious crisis and one that I term the ‘lack of a meaningful Home crisis’. This is not a crisis because people do not have a house that affords them protection from the elements (although many still do) but because people lack a Home they can invest in through the personal experiences they shape in their Home.

Imagine for a moment if a newly built house could think for itself. Perhaps it might wonder ‘who will come to claim me and shape me into a Home?’ A newly built house is in effect a Home in waiting, a place that people can live in and shape meaningful life experiences through. A house is a functional place, a Home has a far richer set of meanings and if we find ourselves living in what we perceive is simply a house, then that richness of meaning is lost to us while we live there. For example, if we are a family of five crammed into two rooms of a large house then we are practically provided for, but are we psychologically and philosophically provided for?

One of the research pioneers into how humans find and shape personal meaning was an Austrian Psychiatrist and Neurologist: Viktor Frankl. Based on his direct experiences in the concentration camps of World War II, Frankl concluded that humans reach out into the world, actively engaging with it, searching for learning and meaning. He believed that we seek meaningful life experiences and define this meaning in three ways: practically (through the facts), psychologically (through beliefs we shape) and philosophically (through what we feel).

Powerful impact
When we walk into a house for the first time (as a potential buyer) we assess that house in terms of how we find it practically (including how close it is to schools, work, etc), whether we believe (think) it would suit us in terms of its layout, cost of upkeep, etc and how we feel about it. Our first impressions (feelings) stay with us and many people decide within a few minutes whether it stays a house or feels like a home to be shaped further by them.

The Housing Crisis needs more attention because the very wellbeing of thousands of people is being impacted by where they live and the fact they are only having their practical needs met. Their psychological and philosophical needs are far from being met and this limits the richness of their lives – it restricts the meaningful experiences they could have if they were in a Home.

In my experience, Homes can have a powerful impact on how we find and shape meaningful lives. They are a catalyst that helps us define who we are. If we just live in a house then this meaning is diluted and reduced. Homes help us form relationships, they are places we can be proud of, we seek to raise strong families in them and we form a strong connection to them. Strong families are building blocks of strong communities and strong communities bundle together to shape strong and progressive societies. Homes have a direct role in shaping strong families, communities and societies – they are meaning creation tools.

Yet the financial crisis of 2007/8 had its routes in a core principle 11that a home is first and foremost a wealth creation asset. This was a practical (and analytical) focus that became such a distraction that we lost sight of the richer meanings that we can shape with our Homes.

For one last time, imagine you are now 100 years old and perhaps you know your life is coming to an end. You are sitting in your favourite seat overlooking your garden and the back of your Home where you have lived for the last 30 years. You reflect on all the experiences that have been shaped in that very back garden, the grandchildren who have played in it, the family events, the friends you have entertained, the nourishment and love you poured into the plants, the books you have read, the tears you shed during quiet moments of sorrow. Your memories are of people you loved, the hobbies you nurtured and you hope deep down in your heart that the next people who move in see it for what it is – a lovely Home that has been cherished and will continue to cherish.

The housing crisis needs attention not because people need shelter but because people need a place they can call Home.

David Lett is Co-Founder of New Meaning – ToolShed. ToolShed opened in June 2015 and has enabled more than 80 young people to start a career in construction. Over 85 per cent of graduates have progressed into work and/or further training. From many and varied challenging backgrounds, they had all left school with few or no qualifications.

ToolShed Construction has been under development over the past 12 months and on 10th September 2018, started to build its first zero energy passive house. This will be the first of many house building programmes in partnership with Beattie Passive; enabling it to offer more unpaid and paid work placement opportunities.

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