Housing, and the housing crisis, is starting to get more airtime in the UK. For the first time in a long time there were actually housing based propositions included in major parties election manifestos. They weren’t particularly good but at least the conversation is starting. And yet the more we keep talking about the housing crisis we may miss the real issue which cuts across so many of the problems we see. The one of building healthy, sustainable, well functioning and affordable communities not just affordable houses.

For me this is the issue that UK Housing really needs to keep at the centre of any discussions, debates and designs for the future of housing. There are a whole host of exciting new technologies which are looking to revolutionise the way houses are built, the way these houses are financed and the way people are connected to each other. The important thing is think about how all of these interconnected themes interact with each other and help to build bigger things than houses. The village for our 21st century cities.

As we know, the UK housing system is broken. Less than half of the homes needed every year to house the growing population are being built. Part of this problem is caused by the current model of development which puts the demand for new homes on to development companies who look for the greatest return on investment. This means they are motivated by building as many homes as possible, in as cheap a way as possible, on the easiest to access sites in order to maximise profits. And they have very little motivation to investigate the best ways of building the infrastructure and shared space which help to make neighbourhoods thrive.

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So what’s the plan?

At Impact Hub Birmingham we believe that the people who make up these communities need to be placed at the centre of their design and not just seen as customers at the end. As a recent winner of the Geovation prize we are working with Land Registry and Ordnance Survey data in collaboration with Birmingham City Council to unlock underused land and turn it into open designed, sustainable, adaptable homes. Utilising the revolutionary WikiHouse system to bring the people who live in the houses into the building of those houses and turn them into homes. To help introduce a real movement towards enabling a new sector of house builders and realise the potential of #citizenbuild. Homes which are in areas people want to live in, which can be self built and can grow and change as their owner’s lives evolve. A platform to dramatically lower the barriers of custom build housing.

By approaching the housing crisis in a holistic manner there lies the opportunity to create a whole new system: from land identification and planning approval to home design and ultimate construction. Utilising existing statute powers through Community Land Trusts and the power of open data, open design and self construction we can create an innovative solution to the housing crisis.

But this is just the start and we know it’s not the whole solution. Whilst giving people the tools and opportunities to build their own communities we also need to give them the support, guidance and trust not currently afforded to self builders. And it’s not a debate between top down or bottom up approaches. Some of this new way of developing will have to come from a city level with strong city leadership and some of will grow from a community level as innovative ideas are grown and improved. Bet let’s start having the conversation to imagine what we want to future developments.

So join in the debate, give us your views and provocations below or come chat to us at House Party 2015. We are building a distributed team of diverse talents and interests to develop the idea further, as we have seen from the experiences of the last few years that most of the interesting and innovative work we have seen happens obliquely. Here are some of the ideas of those involved …

Andy Reeve

I want to live in a city which gives it’s citizens the ability to shape and mould the future housing developments so they are fit for the communities which inhabit them. Where knowledge, tools, land and design are shared openly so that everyone has an influence on how the city grows.

Joyjit Sarkar

The way people relate to buildings and the way they use them haves a huge impact on the lives those people live. Working in the field of Medical Engineering means I am acutely aware of the way good design can give people a richer, more independent and fuller lives. This is why I feel that introducing a new way of developing can be the cornerstone to lead a revolution in healthcare and healthier communities. I want to be able to enable people to build the environments they feel can help them grow and live a happier, healthier life.

Thom Bartley

1) Community

Why did I love living in University accommodation so much? It certainly wasn’t for the tiny room and shared bathroom. The reason I loved it so much is because there was a real sense of community. Your neighbours were your friends. Having a strong community results in the development of friendships, support networks, career opportunities, increased safety, increased self reliance and many other positive factors.

2) Affordability

Simply put there is no point building an ideal house if I can’t afford to buy it / maintain it. Any ideal development must be within reasonable financial reach.

3) Accessibility

Similar to affordability. With so many young people either on a fixed term contract or self employed it becomes extremely difficult to access a traditional mortgage route. As someone who works freelance and on short term contracts it is very difficult for me to obtain a mortgage regardless of my income.

4) Investment

If I’m sinking money into something I need to know it’s going to retain value as an asset. As much as I’d love to take the plunge and move into an innovative development I need to know my large financial outlay is going to be economically viable.

5) Customisable

The idea of being able to develop and change my house as my tastes and personal needs change over time is a major plus.

Anneka Deva

I want to live in a community where I know the people who live alongside me. We sit and share food in the evenings, discussing ideas or hearing stories, rather than watching mindless TV. Children in the community learn from a myriad of people. They may learn how to dance with Catarina, how to make your own shampoo with Anna, explore what’s inside a computer with their grandpa, or dissect creepy crawlies with Chris.

I learn how to grow food in the shared community garden, and a few times a week someone cooks up something tasty and invites everyone to join, especially those who might not be able to get around so easily. People bring food, and therefore stories, from all around the globe. I learn more about what it means to live a sustainable life, a life where we respect and value the world around us, knowing that we have just one.

I feel safe. I feel those around me are looked after. I have my own space to live and to create as I choose, but I know there is a community around me who share both values and lawnmowers.

In this place, everyone isn’t just waiting to live their dreams, spending Sunday evenings watching other people create idyllic lives on Grand Designs. Here, everyone is getting on with it. But we know it doesn’t happen overnight, and it doesn’t happen alone. They say it takes a village to raise a child. In this community, it also takes a village to build a home.

Immy Kaur

Since working in UK Housing and subsequently leaving the sector as I struggled to work on the edges of the organisation and to drive forward new ideas. I also understood that in isolation we struggle to propel forward new ideas, scale them and have any influence on a large slow moving system. I believe a different world is possible, but understand we need to build more agile relational infrastructures that support unlikely players to join the conversation. I hope the platform that Impact Hub Birmingham is building will help more of us to connect, collaborate and make these ideas real, by first building a possibility that reaches the stars. By creating plausible, demonstrable examples of the possibility, and by working across the silos to take a whole system approach. Its a big idea, but I believe it all starts with the collective will to make an impact, together.

The real question for us is as a society we find ourselves rushing into the euphoria of new technologies and platforms, how do we avoid the future of housing being co opted by the 1%? Instead one that has decentralised and democratic ownership for the many …

So join in the debate and discussion, give us your views and provocations below, on twitter #HseParty15 or come chat to us at House Party 2015.

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