(Guest blog written for Neil Morland & Co. 19 April 2021)
At LivShare we are all about how to create homes that make use of sharing and, most importantly, that people can afford. We set up the consultancy after witnessing for years how difficult it was for people to find somewhere affordable to live, whilst being a ‘single household’, and not having the deposit and rent up front required in so much of the private rented sector.
We work with organisations to help them think differently about shared housing as well as create more homes. Sometimes that is literally working on a development of shared housing (a HMO with heart!) but as often it can be about self-contained homes that have common spaces. Key to our work is taking time to understand the situation and the solutions desired, the people that change will affect, and finding pragmatic ways forward with the ultimate occupants firmly in mind.
An example of a recent piece of work was with a London borough where affordable housing is always in demand and where care leavers are often left without housing choices that work well for them. We worked as part of a programme seeking to make best use of small sites owned by the authority. There was a strong desire to use the opportunity to benefit those most affected by the housing crisis, and in this case, it was care leavers. We had the fortune to work with REMI.C.T Studio on this. They have a strong reputation for innovative solutions on small sites and turns out they are fabulously personable too. This was incredibly valuable as we developed and ran a series of workshops for young people, especially focused on those with experience of leaving care but not exclusively.
Our collective findings provided both confirmation and surprise and so pushed the boundaries of the design solution created. What many who work in public sector services will be familiar with, I’m sure, is the sometimes-unending tension between what service users wants from services, including housing, and what is easily manageable. There have been books written on the subject, but ultimately, we all agreed that if a living environment is good for the people living there, then management gets easier. In this case, this is yet to be tested, however from conversations with young people as well as those that work in housing settings it was clear how much tension could be avoided by providing homes that feel safe, warm, private, personal, and thoughtfully equipped.
The design created by REMI.C.T responded to the findings of the many conversations held, creating a shared space with layers of increasing privacy leading to self-contained, single occupancy rooms. You’ll see from the drawings the entrance to the centre of the building that draws you in, allowing occupants to stop and socialise if desired or tuck themselves in the safe space of their rooms before joining in with the household when ready.
Great shared housing can come in many forms – conscious and committed to fluid and transient, and everything in between. Designed and managed well, shared housing can be a good solution when people need a home they can afford and some company along the way. It might not be what everyone imagines in the long term, but it is an important step in the housing journey of many of us. And it can be done well, promoting connection and positive mental health, naturally supportive and coherent communities, and friendships formed for life.
For those concerned with providing housing for others, be it for those in housing need, looking for move on accommodation from supported housing, or needing accommodation close to work, the outlook is moving on from poor quality, badly maintained HMO horror stories, and becoming something entirely different.
We strive to see shared housing more accurately reflected in housing needs assessments, outlined as solutions in housing development strategies and the rich benefits that shared housing can bring appreciated.