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How self-build can help to alleviate homelessness


The right model of self-build housing can offer a route out of homelessness, says James Cox.

A lack of affordable, good-quality housing is affecting thousands of people, with many being priced out of their homes every year.

A common misconception of homelessness is that chaotic lifestyle choices are the fundamental cause. But the rise in homelessness reflects structural changes relating to housing provision and welfare reforms by successive governments, including the end of assured tenancies, the benefits cap and changes to housing allowances.

As professionals in the built environment, we should use our expertise to build cities that are inclusive for all. This was the main driver behind my recently completed post-graduate research project, Forgotten Land, Forgotten People. It proposes an alternative solution for ending homelessness through new technology and the provision of self-build housing on small, underused sites.

In partnership with Trident Group, a Midlands-based housing association, I explored how they could better use their underused land to address the issues of homelessness and a lack of affordable homes. The project promotes the regeneration of three garage courts on a Birmingham estate as self-build sites for groups of ‘self-build ready’ homeless individuals and families.

"It is not a short-term quick win, but the benefits would be felt widely by transforming run-down sites and providing new homes and job opportunities"

Similar initiatives are already integrating homeless people back into their communities and wider society. A self-build scheme in Bristol by the Community Self Build Agency and funded by the Homes England (formerly the Homes and Communities Agency), has helped eight homeless veterans back into work or further training, gaining them new skills, while creating somewhere to live.

New technologies and systems such as WikiHouse can help support such an initiative, by lowering the skills thresholds needed and the costs involved in building homes.

This self-building process holds the potential to alleviate many of the consequences of homelessness, by equipping participants with the skills and confidence they need to reintegrate into society.

"It is not a short-term quick win, but the benefits would be felt widely by transforming run-down sites and providing new homes and job opportunities."

In England 78,000 households live in temporary housing; many more are on the street, with an estimated £1 billion annual cost to the public purse. The All Party Parliamentary Group for Ending Homelessness says its aim is achievable. As planners, we must be involved in creating solutions. 

James Cox is a planner with Lichfields UK

Photo | iStock


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