"Acclimatisation of lifestyle inflation" - that sent a shiver down my spine.

You hit many points here.

The generation that was still able to afford a single-family house in their 30s had different expectations for their standard of living when they were going through university or apprenticeships. That also pertained to their work-ethic.

Of course the market has changed. Not just degrees have undergone inflation - especially expectations for everything being served on a silver plate did.

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I am curious to know where you are talking about. I moved away from a university town (Madison, WI) that has the same problems you are describing (e.g. seasonal fluctuation, newly built tower blocks, and a single crazy day, August 15, when all the leases expire and everyone in town moves). In the past, the university provided affordable dormitory housing for students on campus. But they stopped building dorms while expanding the enrollments. Now they rely on the private sector to provide the housing at excessively high rents, as the university no longer views the provision of housing as their responsibility. Homelessness, high population density (with more crime and recently covid transmission), and increased student debt to pay the rents are the results.

In Madison, the rents are so high that more renters are choosing to rent what they cannot afford rather than being homeless. The landlords then go to court and evict the renters who fall behind. To avoid defaults, the landlords (often corporations or banks) now require a rental history (which students or downsizing homeowners do not have), two months of rent for deposit, and require that the amount of rent does not exceed 25% of the renter's income (failing this, you can get a co-signer who meets the requirements). This is a high bar for people with lower income and for the disabled or those elderly who are living solely on poverty-level pensions. There is practically no public housing (742 units for a population of 277,166, or approximately 0.26% of the Madison population lives in public housing).

I have no answers for this situation other than to face the economic reality and move to a less expensive place.

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Damn this was thought provoking in a number of ways. While I've noticed this in passing in cities larger than yours, I hadn't considered what a proportionally larger impact this would have on a much smaller city! You are so adept at really meditating on a variety of aspects of one topic, and as always you give us springboards to larger societal thinking. Anyway, great piece, and I just listened to this podcast yesterday that talks of the popularity of concrete construction even during a time when it won't be suited to our hot future - if you're inclined: https://theconversation.com/keep-buildings-cool-as-it-gets-hotter-by-resurrecting-traditional-architectural-techniques-podcast-190384

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I don't know if the UK has the same regulations against SROs as the United States, as part of the West's early gentrification craze, but therein lies the solution:

"Student dorms" are just RSOs, but legal and considered morally permissable because students are supposed to live alone, not migrants, poor people, or itinerant or temporary blue collar workers. Suddenly then they become "flophouses" instead of dorms.

And the refusal of communities to accept RSOs as legitimate housing has a large part to play in homelessness and the soaring prices of housing.

So, what I'm saying here is that the buildings are fine, provided your small town is willing to appropriate their use for SROs if the student population collapses. If not and they go derelict, that's a problem of how the city chose to use them, not in their use value itself.

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