DemoDev started out three years ago as an idea to use data to help more people build their own homes, to activate underused plots of land in our city and provide well designed, high performance, truly affordable homes for citizens. Supported along the way by Geovation and UnLtd, we set to work on how to use open data to open up the housing market.
What at first felt like a simple task of illustrating where publicly owned land is available and activating this through new ways of thinking has turned into a much deeper and system-wide exploration of housing and ultimately power in our city.
Over the last decades, our housing supply has been heavily dependent on large speculative developers to build our homes, including for the delivery of affordable homes. A model based on large scale speculative development using economies of scale to shave out profit margins as land prices rise. Increasingly, this model is no longer viable, especially on small sites, which collectively represent a significant area of undeveloped land in the city. It also drives to a race-to-the-bottom in quality, sustainability and in supporting resilient, successful communities. Paying large sums for land means there is little budget left for high performance homes or community infrastructure without charge unaffordable prices. The investors and residents of luxury flats get their private members bars while the citizens get locked out.
Increasingly, local governments, housing associations and even local citizens are looking to cut out the developers, and build affordable, sustainable homes for themselves, and truly invest in whole-life savings, including in energy, care and health costs. The problem is that this kind of direct development is risky, opaque and difficult. High up front costs prevent local SME builders from competing and individuals, who may be able to access capital, do not necessarily have the capacity or skills to build the home they desire.
A lack of suitable housing is a problem which spans the sectors and as such solutions to our current housing problems can only work if they come from a cross sector view. We need to work on land disposal, financing, fabrication and procurement as much as we focus on build technologies.
This brings us to what next for DemoDev, we recently won The Urban Challenge Award with PUBLIC and West Midlands Combined Authority to explore how we can create this new supply model in the West Midlands. We are working on several elements starting to explore these issues and help tackle problems for public sector bodies as well as members of the public and community groups. Working on both sides of the supply and demand dynamic to help shape better outcomes for all.
A combination of land sourcing technology, building technology and movement convening, DemoDev is a collaboration with Open Systems Lab to explore how to unlock a wider range of development opportunities in urban areas. It is based on the belief that the housing crisis can only be counteracted if there is innovation in multiple parts of the housing supply chain. Building a local, digital supply chain with multiple partners to develop the homes we need at a price level which everyone can access.
One of the key innovations needed to solve the housing crisis is not in the houses themselves, but in the land on which they are built. Starting with an open data led approach to identifying small scale housing opportunities we feel now is the time to start exploring new methods of public land disposal and will a cornerstone of our pilot project with West Midlands Combined Authority.
New digital housing technologies such as WikiHouse can then be used to unlock a new approach to building homes which can deliver houses where traditional, speculative developers wouldn’t whilst also seeding and a new, inclusive, scalable supply chain of local manufacturers.
Combining theses technologies can then contribute to a movement which drives local economic development, empowers a growing self build sector and build better homes which can grow and adapt as their owners lives evolve.
Using the powers of digital platforms to simplify processes, dramatically lower the barriers of custom build housing and create a new housing supply chain for the region. Building homes which build capacity in their communities. Initial analysis suggests there is enough land in this criteria to potentially build 13,000 homes across the West Midlands.
These digital platforms allow homes to be customised and replicated on small sites across the city, unlocking new land, building beautiful, low-energy homes and creating local employment. And we will soon be piloting this whole process here in the West Midlands.
Help local authorities and housing providers, by unlocking small sites and making it simpler to directly construct new genuinely, affordable homes or homes for social rent, crucially at much lower risk than today.
Ultimately, the housing crisis is a crisis of choice and hope. The private rented sector can be precarious and expensive, owner occupation is sold as a dream but one built on an ever growing burden of debt. And social rent homes can not be built at the speed need to keep up with demand. We want to give people hope that they can choose which housing they want to go down rather than being forced down one because of circumstance.
DemoDev is the start of exploring this conversation through small scale interventions, democratic knowledge and inviting everyone in to benefit from the growth of the region. Identifying and minimising the whole-life-cost view of housing and using co-development by and with citizens as a way to address long term public cost burdens. Housing has largely become a form of wealth accumulation, we need to turn it back into the platform on which all citizens can build healthy, successful, vibrant from. Democratising development.