We Need to Build More Homes – Not forgetting communities

The fact that we have a housing crisis, particularly in social and genuinely affordable housing, is beyond dispute. To tackle the crisis we need new ideas, new methods of more affordable building & new kinds of partnerships, and possibly the willingness to question a few traditional principles and beliefs.
There’s also a risk that if we solely concentrate on building homes we could be storing up problems for the future.

But what if we could begin to tackle the housing crisis without having to stretch budgets and borrow even more? What if we could create communities by approaching the build differently? It’s already possible but we are just not utilising the possibilities yet.

Modular house construction should be the future for these builds, offering the cost effective solution that is so desperately required, without compromising on quality, energy efficiency or programme timings. Offsite construction offers the flexibility and reduced time on-site which in turn speeds up the programme timings when work begins – saving the costs associated with having construction workers on-site for large periods of time.

These savings can then be made available for extra investment into the community – as it is no longer about just constructing property alone but instead creating a well-connected social infrastructure community. Modular construction methods can just as easily be extended to schools, medical centres and sports facilities – to achieve true asset management.

But what is true asset management? Essentially it involves the 3p’s; people, place and property and all 3 need to come together to make long term decisions. It’s not just about building new houses, the build needs to reflect what the local community needs in terms of housing type and jobs.

True, houses are very much needed but the community also need jobs as well and a sense of ownership and belonging. To create this, gives people the opportunity to also be a part of the long term solution in looking after the communities they live in and are hopefully proud of.

So why shouldn’t the housing provider be made to adopt a truly local plan that is devised for the community, with the community and even delivered by the community. Why should people put up with having housing ‘done for them’?

The point about communities doesn’t seem to be lost on Rio Ferdinand, Mark Noble and Bobby Zamora, three footballers who are investing time and wealth in an alternative approach with the Kingsland development in a rundown area of Houghton Regis near Luton.

The proposed scheme will create 750 private and, 600 social and affordable homes. The scheme also has a creche, leisure centre and sports academy. All three investors grew up on social housing estates and bring a welcome first hand perspective.The rental income will be split between local authority and the investors, of which Aviva is the main one. In this scheme private rents will subsidise the social rents, which makes the model viable in areas with higher rents.

In other areas different solutions may be needed. There isn’t a single model that works everywhere, which is why we need greater creativity and collaboration. Having the government and social housing providers on a collision course over the right to buy and rent reductions aimed at clipping the housing benefit budget is unhelpful.

What we can be sure of is that funding is in short supply. But with a change to attitudes with construction methods looking at modular house construction or imaginative private-public partnerships – we can begin to address the crisis in an outcome communities based manner.