Choice and constraint in non-permanent housing

Project: Research

Project participant(s)

Department / unit(s)


In pressured housing markets, non-traditional housing options take on a new significance for households. Non-permanent housing such as mobile homes and residential boats offer the potential for households on lower incomes not only to live in highly constrained housing markets, but can be also associated with positive lifestyle choices, often located in environments connected with leisure and recreation.

This project aims to examine people’s perceptions of factors that contribute or detract from their ability to develop and sustain their choice of lifestyle, centred on their housing circumstances. In this instance, lifestyle choice is defined as people’s capability to achieve the objectives they have reason to value (Sen, 1992). The proposal also aims to explore how the meanings that households associate with particular lifestyles, and the choices that these households make, are mediated by the wider institutional context in which they sit. Institutional attitudes have a considerable bearing on the ability of households not only to exercise choice in terms of the type of accommodation they want to live in, but the ability to sustain that choice in the face of constantly changing opportunities and constraints as the policy environment at national and local level shifts and is interpreted and redefined.

Clapham (2005) argues that one way of judging policy is to assess the impact that it has not only on the types of accommodation that people live in, but also the control that households feel that they can exercise over their housing choices. Embedded within debates that have explored the meaning of home has been a focus on the issue of control and ontological security. Clapham (2005) sets out a framework for analysis drawing together structure and agency from a social constructionist perspective, utilising a pathways approach to the analysis of lifestyle choices. Indeed, Clapham (2005) puts forward a challenge for housing research to identify links between housing and personal fulfilment where concepts of lifestyle and self-identity are key. This proposal offers the opportunity to develop the conceptual understanding of the meaning of home drawing on the perceptions of residents who live in types of accommodation that have not previously been considered in research. Finally, the proposal will also inform current policy debates by illustrating the attitudes of residents of non-permanent accommodation towards recent policy changes, as well as a consideration of the attitudes of organisations at local level to these forms of accommodation.

Clapham, D. (2005) The meaning of housing: a pathways approach. Bristol: The Policy Press.
Sen, A. (1992) Inequality Re-examined. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Layman's description

The overall objective of the project is to explore how people perceive their ability to develop and sustain their choice of lifestyle in either a mobile home or residential boat. The research will explore the meanings associated with home for residents of mobile homes and residential boats, as well as investigate residents’ perceptions of the constraints and opportunities presented by the institutional context. Further, the project will examine the attitudes of public and private sector agencies towards these types of accommodation, and assess the extent to which policy and the institutional environment has had an impact on enabling households to choose and sustain these accommodation choices.

The research will use semi-structured qualitative interviews to address the research questions. Forty interviews will be conducted with residents of mobile homes, and forty interviews with people living on boats. In addition, up to 40 semi-structured qualitative interviews will also be conducted with a diverse range of agencies and organisations including national, regional and local government bodies, representative trade and business associations, representative resident bodies and financial institutions. The research will also analyse key documents produced by these agencies in relation to mobile homes and residential boats.

Key findings

Semi-structured qualitative interviews were conducted with forty park home residents and thirty five residential boaters, as well as key stakeholders in both settings. The majority of park home residents and residential boaters expressed very strong attachments to their housing and lifestyles. The length of time that some of the respondents had lived in these forms of accommodation showed that the lifestyles associated with park homes or residential boats are anything but non-permanent.

Both park home residents and residential boaters emphasised qualities such as peace and tranquillity, closeness to nature, and the views they enjoyed. A strong sense of community in both settings was identified, with the perception that people would help each other out. A stronger theme amongst park home residents was safety and security, perhaps reflecting the age segregated nature of many parks.

In spite of the positive views expressed by the majority of respondents in each setting, a number of concerns were also apparent. Feelings of insecurity and anxiety with regard to tenure arrangements were pervasive amongst the residential boaters, reflecting the very insecure tenure that most boaters have to live with. Boaters were not only concerned about how long they could stay on their moorings, but also the rising cost of moorings as well. A key factor underpinning this issue is not only the dearth of residential moorings that are available, but also a lack of awareness of the needs of residential boaters amongst agencies and organisations.

The majority of park home respondents had greater confidence in their environment. Park homes play a small, but significant, role in meeting the housing needs and aspirations of a diverse range of households. Given the sector’s increasing orientation towards an accommodation option for older people, a challenge for the park home sector is to maximise the potential contribution that it can make towards the broader policy objectives for housing an ageing society. However, a fundamental aspect of this challenge is being able to tackle the impact that ‘rogue’ site owners have not only upon residents, but also the sector at large.

A theme to emerge from the analysis was a focus upon categorical identity, which refers to the way in which identities of home can be shaped not only by the meanings ascribed by residents, but also by the perceptions of others in society (Clapham, 2005). Categorical identity is significant not only because it frames how people may feel about where they live, and also their emotional attachments to their homes. The wider perceptions of society towards non-traditional housing or alternative lifestyles can also have practical consequences for people who live in these settings. One of the issues that many respondents discussed were the stigmatising views that they felt were associated with their homes and lifestyles by the wider public. The weak security of tenure of residential boaters rendered them especially vulnerable to the complaints of waterside residents, since many boaters can readily be evicted from their moorings.
Effective start/end date1/06/0730/06/09

Award relations

Choice and constraint in non-permanent housing

Bevan, M. A.



Award date: 16/03/07

Award: UK Research Councils


Research outputs

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