Project Focus

‘Waste not, want not’, is Poplar HARCA’s motto, as the housing association transforms unused spaces into 17 new homes via its Hidden Homes scheme.

After conducting a study across estates of under-used and under-used spaces, Poplar HARCA has been making strong progress in building its Hidden Homes.

As part of the Open Poplar project – which showcases over 80 spaces with potential to be turned into homes, start-ups, community groups, and more – Poplar identified a range of existing stock that it would transform into housing.

“With a chronic lack of affordable housing and over 9,000 people on the waiting list in Tower Hamlets, we are always looking for creative solutions to help alleviate this strain as well as opportunities to increase our assets to enable Poplar HARCA to grow and develop,” explains Poplar’s director of development, Neal Hunt.

“The Hidden Homes scheme provided an opportunity to achieve both.”

During Phase 1, a boiler room, an oil tank room, and unused loft spaces were transformed into six new homes.

Phase 2, completed in April 2019, provided six new affordable homes from a redundant NHS Clinic and Dental Suite and a seventh in a redundant store.

Phase 3 commenced in July 2019 and will convert 18 redundant garages at the base of a maisonette block into four spanking-new homes.

Hidden Homes will, in total, provide 17 new homes, including six that have been allocated to overcrowded families; improved the aesthetic of existing buildings; and eliminated an ASB hotspot (the empty NHS clinic) that was being used for drug dealing.

These developments weren’t without challenges, though. Ensuring the conversion costs stacked up financially was especially important; as we planned to rent the properties at affordable levels, we needed to weigh up the costs of the refurbishment against the income from rents.

The properties in Phase 1 were rented out at Local Housing Allowance rates, but a grant from the GLA during Phases 2 and 3 alleviated some financial pressure, allowing us to rent the properties at London Affordable Rent.

This helped to balance the books, meaning we could provide affordable homes to the borough.

Converting existing buildings also posed a different set of challenges to those when building from scratch.

We needed to remain sensitive to the design of the original buildings and their surroundings when making aesthetic decisions; we needed to get new mains services connected to many of the areas being converted and ensure the positioning of meters and pipes would be suitable for family living; and we needed to meet modern space standards and have user-friendly layouts.

All while conforming to building regulations.

So far, though, everything has gone according to plan. “Phases 1 and 2 have been a huge success, and we are looking forward to starting Phase 3 this summer,” Neal Hunt concludes.

“The solutions we found to the challenges we faced will help shape how we transform unused stock into assets in the future.”