‘Tis the season to address the housing crisis

With Christmas approaching and Shelter’s latest report identifying over 3,200 homeless in Manchester, what are we going to do to tackle the problem? Serve a Christmas dinner in a street cafe? Give away a used coat?

These things are important but are short lived. What more could we do?

The number of private landlords renting properties so poor they are not fit for habitation is a worry.

As are squats and other insecure accommodation for people unable to afford anything else, often referred to as the ‘hidden homeless’.

The tragic news of two people burnt to death in China Town living in an empty property is deeply saddening.

Registered providers of housing are central to the delivery of affordable housing but the drive from the government to deliver ‘profit’ is a concern.

The ‘profit first’ philosophy over the last 10 years is driving out affordable rent. We have a shortage of quality homes for rent and suitable supported living accommodation.

We have to call for change. We have a duty as architects to design quality housing fit for families and individuals but the funding and land needs to be made available.

We were delighted to be the architects for the BBC’s DIY SOS Veteran Street project in Manchester.

Veterans are over represented in homeless statistics but as good and as inspirational as it was, one-off projects are not enough.

Is the tide now turning? The latest government directive sounds positive and appears to be addressing the issues.

We advocate designing to design-guides, bring back the Housing Quality Indicators and auditable measures and address fuel poverty by producing energy efficient homes.

The government, both in Westminster and at local planning level, needs to embrace affordable housing schemes and re-evaluate ‘section 106’ contributions for affordable housing schemes. Local authorities levying this ‘tax’ are tipping the scales away from affordable schemes.

Instead, we ask they start supporting a holistic approach, not just to deliver headline numbers of houses, or measure the profitability of registered providers but consider the social worth of schemes.

They should facilitate the provision of quality homes for all sections in our society.

To say these things should be ‘affordable’ is wrong.

Everything is relative and what I could afford is not the same as what a family on benefits could afford. It’s time we got this right.

Vicky Saunders, Managing Director BTP Architects

Published in 24 Housing on 21st November 2017.

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