Shelter

Like a toilet, shelter is one those things you really don’t much notice… until you don’t have it, and need it. It’s turning into a huge issue in Australia – and probably in the US too? I don’t know as much about that as I should. Australia has a situation where government and local government has effectively made building housing an absolute regulatory nightmare, and thus massively expensive to do (with, interestingly, a huge increase in the number of complaints lodged about shoddy building), pushing the price of existing stock (and new, of course) through the roof. This doesn’t leave a lot of space for people… We’re a wealthy country, and we could to some extent, carry this parasite load. But with runaway inflation taking hold, interest rates rising as a result… it’s can’t afford time for even more people. More people are trying to rent. Landlords suddenly find the banks squeezing them, and so they squeeze the tenants. Any not being squeezed, squeeze the tenants anyway, because demand is considerably exceeding supply. This is not just the unemployed guy with drug abuse issues… it’s families with two working parents.

Now, this may all right itself, or not. In true Australian urban fashion (our large cities are remarkably similar to US East Coast cities – and our rural areas gradually tend toward Texas or at least middle America, the further out they get) there is a lot of ‘Guvment got to build more houses’ and ‘guvment got to give more rent assistance’ — things which, um, won’t do much to help, and may well make things much worse. Our local government is certainly trying… to make it far worse. But very suddenly ‘shelter’ – like the toilet in the bathroom that you didn’t even think about, let alone speak about… until that first stomach-cramp hit, is suddenly becoming very important.

Here’s the thing for writers: issues that become important for readers lives, become very important for writer’s books. Books are relatively cheap. They give escape and hope in hard times for not much money. Historically books, like veggie seeds, camping gear, and bottom end of the price-range alcohol… are countercyclical. They sell well when things are terrible. Because I’ve been on the rough edge of nowhere to live, counting the change in my pocket, and despair, I want at least to give as good a value as possible.

So: Shelter… it’s a neglected issue in a lot of books – because, hey, our customers (and we are of them – the writers who don’t read make terrible writers) were mostly in a position where if they could buy books – most of them weren’t sleeping in their car, or under a bridge. Yes, some were sharing rooms, or staying with family or friends, but able to get something. While a few might have lived in fear that tomorrow would be the bridge or the car, for many it wasn’t that near or that common. We’re – certainly in Oz – heading toward near and common. Our temperatures are not as dire in many parts of the country as the US, but it’s still enough to make miserable and kill some. It probably needs to be something we bring in, and something we offer ideas and description of comfort and relief found. Also… well, maybe a shade of reality about what people have and can live in.

Talking of shelter, I wondered whether any of the rest of you also ended up drawing plans of the houses and building you write about. Or is that just me? I get lost as to the continuity without it.

Image Pixabay, no attribution required.

20 comments

  1. I didn’t draw plans (this time) for the Familiars books, but I know the lay-out of: the Lestrangs’ rent house, the duplex, Uncle Leopard’s split-level house, and the clan’s main farm house. Oh, and “Aunt” Martha’s farm house, which is a very standard farm house except that it’s single story.

    For Schloß Hohen-Drachenburg I did make a diagram, ditto the Global Defense Force British-Branch’s HQ, so I didn’t accidentally, oh, move the mess hall between scenes without a good reason.

    Part of the story in the Familiar Generations WIP is home and house. Jude lacks both. That might be about to change. Or it might not.

  2. Oh, yes – I definitely did work out the layout of the Steinmetz house in Fredericksburg, the Becker ranch house in the Hill country, and Margaret Vining’s dog-trot cabin in Gonzalez, and her later house in Austin for the Adelsverein series, as three of those four were later enlarged. For extra points, I also worked out what would have been seen out of the various windows in those houses. I likened this to the beta readers as somewhat like building a mental miniature model.

  3. I’ve based a lot of houses in my stories upon actual houses I’ve lived in or were lived in by childhood friends I visited regularly. It makes things easier to just pull it from memory. Others are a little more tricky. I probably ought to tack down the layout of one house in the Grissom timeline, given that it’s owned by two different characters in different periods, so I need to remember it’s the same house with the same layout (because the connection becomes important).

  4. It’s not that big an issue in the US, except for the homeless camps, which have been growing since the 1980s or so, but it’s getting there. The reports I see of Australian housing regulations are sounding nightmarish, especially at the lower end of the economic scale.
    The MC in my WIP is a professional itinerant, with no fixed residence. He shelters where he can or must. I did that one summer, so I have *some* experience, but this was in a temperate climate. He’s been doing it far longer. Winter—ah, now that’s another matter, a constraint on his activity I hadn’t been considering.

    1. Historically, a lot of itinerants just went south for the winter. If that’s a possibility. Or they’d try to find a fixed gig for the winter, with housing included.

  5. I haven’t even considered doing plans of the characters homes, but instead, they are really places of refuge for them. Sort of the antithesis of the horrible things they deal with in the main story threads.

    This one character I’m working with is basically a combat heavy, but their happy place is figuring out ways to make their home more comfortable, working in the gardens and cooking.

    And it just feels nice for them to return from some world ending grade thing, to this thoroughly domestic setting where they can relax.

  6. In the US, it depends on the city and state. California hates new housing. I believe overall Texas and Florida are much more friendly (with probable exceptions for cities such as Austin).

    Also, the US has this thing called the 30 year fixed mortgage (now mostly backed by the Federal government), which does not exist in most of the world. I believe most of the world has either short term fixed or adjustable mortgages, so even existing mortgage holders can be screwed when rates go up substantially.

    1. yep. And when that mortgage is on a million (yes, that sort of house price is common) even a small rise puts monthly payments up a lot. The average here is 5.2% but it is in double figures for some borrowers. The rise since April means on that very ordinary Sydney million buck home, the ‘owner’ has to find an additional $1000 per month since April. I couldn’t find an extra $500.

  7. I have an *extremely crude* drawing of a Sakura class spaceship, because– as you point out, going to get lost without it.

    Especially when one of teh characters is an engineer that likes to really get into his work.

  8. Yes! Houses, towns, countries. I think it makes it more real in my head and thus hopefully for the reader, too

  9. Yep. When I get too far into a story without plans, I frequently discover the descriptions don’t work, And the run of the pluming pipes must be truly amazing.

  10. Everyone deserves shelter. It’s a basic human right, not something for the rich, but for everone. It’s only fair. And not just any shelter, the shelter should be safe to protect women and children and their pets. Bureaucrats must guarantee shelter is built to safe standards, set by codes with input from manufacturers and unions and environmental advocates: building, accessibility, electrical, plumbing, energy efficiency, stormwater retention, and in conformance with planning and zoning regulations governing lot size, set backs, landscaping and mandatory green space. All of that costs money which makes safe code-compliant shelter affordable only for the rich. But other people still need shelter so they sleep in unsafe no-code shanties, tents and shacks, because allowing people to live in non-compliant starter homes while they remodel them to build sweat equity would be . . . unfair.

    1. Yup, it’s amazing how that works. “It’s totally okay for illegal migrant workers to live thirty to an apartment while hotbunking, but your kids will get taken away if you have two little kids sharing a bed.”

    2. This. And it WAS very much the story of Australia. You bought a cheap block, put up a cheap fibro shed, and built room by room, with sheer sweat equity. And unsurprisingly in logic terms, those houses still stand – 70 years later. The modern ‘compliant’ ones… seldom last past 20.

  11. I’ll do it different ways depending on what I’m writing, but yes, I have drawn plans before.

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