Housing for the rest of us

Unsurprisingly perhaps, reflecting on my own more recent experience of being in housing need, has prompted me to look again at meeting a significant housing need that very few housing providers are dealing with.

What are the housing options for single people in need of immediate accommodation who don’t need support?  Where do people relying on income benefits, or in low paid employment, get housing they can actually afford?  What about young people starting apprenticeships or entering the work place for the first time; where do they find somewhere to call home?

There will always be the proportion of single people looking for housing who can rely on ‘bank of mum and dad’, friends or happen to earn sufficient income to secure accommodation of their choice. At the other end of the spectrum, those deemed adequately vulnerable, can also be fairly confident of being provided for in terms of accommodation.

For the rest of us, especially those earning less that the ‘average household income’, what options are there? They seem to boil down to an uncomfortable choice between paying over half your income in rent, sharing bedrooms with friends (or even strangers), or perhaps, for those that can, simply never moving out of the parental home. Higher rents, deposits, and rent in advance mean securing a rental home of their choice becomes a distant dream for the many who only feel like they are just about getting by. This significant group, where the state has let them fend for themselves, has led them to the ‘no home, low Income, no home’ cycle.

So, what are the right responses? From my perspective, we need more socially-minded developers, entrepreneurs, investors, regulators, local authorities and housing providers to rise to the challenge and commit to work together to deliver new creative solutions, or scale up existing ones. There are some great housing models out there, such as lodgings schemes, conversion of empty sheltered properties, guardian services, shared housing, rent deposit schemes, modular deployable housing, and so on.

These, though, barely scratch the surface, but do demonstrate thoughtful innovation and the encouraging, ‘can do’ attitude that is needed. The response that I am drawn to, having already developed Y:Cube Housing for YMCA, is to look at reclaiming the HMO (Housing of Multiple Occupation) as a desirable and affordable choice for single people. Using this model, rents can be kept low but at the same time offer excellence in design to ensure that, while providing the core essentials, like safe and individual bedrooms, all the best of the shared living opportunity is realised. Think Co-Living without the expensive add-ons.

Many will be aware that shared housing, or HMOs, already operate on practically every street in the country, however the vast majority exist as a result of remodelling of existing properties. Wouldn’t it be great if we could create purpose-built HMOs that are both aspirational in design whilst charging rents that even someone on a minimum wage can afford? Challenging, yes, but not impossible. Getting creative about every element of development could lead to a much-needed injection of new housing all over the country – Co-Living for the rest of us (including me!).

I’ve been working on some models and forming a ‘coalition of support’ from like minded people and organisations but still need help. I’d be really keen to grab a coffee or a quick conversation if this resonates with you too. Do get in touch.

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