The homes hidden in plain sight

We all know that when it comes to the subject of affordable housing, ‘more is more’. Like the rest of the UK, London has a housing crisis and with a population set to hit 10 million in the next decade, it is only going to get worse. Tim Young, Partner at John Rowan and Partners talks about the hidden homes lying in plain sight…

The fact that the UK has a housing crisis is sadly not new, neither is the debate which rages around it? While the basic issue is that we simply haven’t built enough homes to meet demand, people are still arguing whether it is down to poor planning, land banking, rising land prices or the reliance on a small number of large developers? And I think we all know the answer is, all of the above.

While I don’t have the solution to fix the housing crisis (yet) there is certainly a missed opportunity in London to deliver more housing by identifying the hidden plots scattered across the boroughs. The subject of unused space has been discussed before, but it is still not being taken seriously. Opportunities to get people into homes is being missed. I truly believe that hidden within the large housing portfolios of London’s 33 Local Authorities and multiple Registered Providers is the ability to increase the housing stock by 5 – 10%.

So what’s stopping them?

In our experience one of the biggest challenges to the development of these spaces comes down to the departmental structure of many Local Authorities and Registered Providers. The responsibility for developing these sites fall between the development and asset management teams – leading to them being missed.

For the Asset Management team, the focus is on the efficient management of their housing stock and achieving high levels of resident satisfaction. And any change, be it regeneration, rooftop development or infill schemes can cause residents satisfaction to drop. In contrast to this, the Development team have pressure to deliver homes and understandably their focus is on larger scale projects. Due to the nature of ‘hidden homes’ these projects tend to be smaller, management intensive and can stretch the limited resource of the Development team.

Identify, adapt and overcome

It is fair to say that there are certain challenges with delivering small schemes, but with the appropriate planning and project management, the building of new homes on ‘free’ land should be a no brainer and worth the effort. And with an appropriate tenure mix, the delivery of the additional homes can be self-funding.

The first step is to undertake a review of your housing stock and identify how many homes you could create on your existing sites. These sites are often overlooked as suitable for housing and can range from rooftop extensions on a housing block, infill spaces such as drying areas on Estates or the redevelopment of garage areas. Once undertaken, you can calculate what the return on them would be.

Armed with this data you will be in a position to develop a strategy to deliver the different types of hidden homes in your portfolio. How this is delivered will depend on the nature of the space. For example the development team could develop a group of infill or back land projects, a specialist consultant could be brought in to project manage a rooftop extension and the existing regeneration team used for any larger brownfield sites.

The management and input required from the organisation can be minimised by use of an experienced construction consultant. Using a third party – who has the skill and experience of working with existing residents as well as new build developments – can provide the necessary resource to get a hidden homes project off the ground.

Every little helps

These secret sites can deliver new homes at zero cost, improve asset performance and resident satisfaction. While a challenge, they are already well connected to the community and make use of the existing local shops and transport links.

In addition to the obvious benefit of delivering new homes and receiving revenue, by linking the work to the Planned Preventative Maintenance (PPM) programme it can significantly reduce the PPM expenditure. By coordinating a rooftop development with the window replacement of a housing block – significant savings can be achieved in areas such as scaffolding.

Our advice is simple if you think you may have unused space, come and talk to us. Using our hidden homes viability model, we have been working with clients to quickly review sites, take into account planning restrictions, costs and values and provide them with an individual site appraisal. We can vary the tenure mix and the financial model to align it with your available funding and housing objectives.

By making the most of your existing land and buildings, Local Authorities and Registered Providers can deliver more housing and a positive return for their accounts. I firmly believe that if all the Boroughs and Registered Providers in London undertook this process they would identify thousands of housing opportunities. These numbers aren’t going to solve the housing crisis on their own but it’s a step in the right direction and will provide much needed housing at the heart of the demand.

Image Credit: Peter Barber Architects