Housing supply needed to prevent homelessness

Last week, a report by Crisis found preventing 40,000 people a year from becoming homeless could save the UK government £370 million per annum. This alone is not the answer.

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The charity suggested a package of services that could be put in place to stop those on the brink from dropping through the net – these included financial and debt advice, landlord mediation as well as mental health and drug support.

This combination of measures couldn’t come at a more necessary time for the government which, earlier this month, came under fire for falling eight places (to 20th) down the European Housing Exclusion Index – a league table ranking the 28 EU states by their capacity to house their populations adequately.

With the UK faring particularly badly in terms of the added risk of homelessness to some of the most vulnerable – older people and those just out of their teens – it’s clear that a comprehensive plan for prevention needs to redress these issues.

Temporary accommodation will play a large part here. After all, a cocktail of measures including child and parent conciliation and advice for jobhunters is no good if there simply isn’t housing for those at risk of being forced onto the street.

In recent years, councils have learned this to their detriment – in 2013, Birmingham Council was fined £4,000 for forcing a woman and her children to live in a one bed B&B for four months. Over the last year, local authorities have wracked up huge bills for paying to accommodate their homeless in hotels and B&Bs. Peterborough Council, for example, was recently landed with a £1m bill for putting people up in the local Travelodge because there simply wasn’t enough temporary accommodation to house an unusually large swell of homeless.

As it stands, the UK needs around 225,000 new homes to be built every year – it is currently falling short by around 85,000 per annum.

This dearth of supply isn’t just driving property prices up, way beyond the reach of affordability for most, but it also means there are fewer options available for local authorities when seeking to temporarily house people.

This is where advances in housebuilding have a large part to play. Modular and prefabricated structures have seen extraordinary advances in recent years – so much so that most modular developments can be built six months quicker than traditional methods. They are also usually developed away from the site in a construction line, so are less dependent on teams of builders and other cost-increasing overheads.

These savings can be passed onto buyers. Even in the heart of London, some modular housing projects – such as Pocket Living in Lambeth – are being priced at 35% below market value.

For councils struggling to find housing, it’s a lifeline. Lewisham Council is currently trialling the effectiveness of prefab builds for housing the homeless in its PLACE/Ladywell development – a modular housing block that is sat on an empty space that would otherwise be locked into planning permission review for years.

It’s this sort of innovation in housing – and particularly around homeless prevention – that should underpin the government’s plans to reduce homelessness in the UK.

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