Blog: 13 July 2016House half empty or House half full?

An article in The Guardian last month highlighted how Alejandro Aravena, a Chilean architect, is pioneering a new type of disaster planning. Following a tragic earthquake and tsunami, the town of ConstituciĆ³n, was in dire need of accommodation for many of its poor whose slums had been destroyed. Aravena’s solution was to provide relatively quick and cheap accommodation in the form of ‘half houses’, rather than wasting money and resources on temporary accommodation. These half homes provided the immediate emergency relief, but have given the opportunity for their occupiers to build out the rest of the shell as they need and when they can. Most interestingly though is that all of these homes are social homes.

Although not comparable to the tsunami that struck ConstituciĆ³n, the UK is suffering from an accommodation crisis of its own, and Aravena’s solution could help to address this. As well as creating an interesting and varied street scene, it facilitates a type of self-build and self-help affordable housing; one that meets the current definition in the NPPF.

A key criteria for an affordable home is that the home, or the subsidy that helped create that home, is recycled in perpetuity. Regardless of the potential changes to this definition, this recycling of the product helps guarantee the provision of affordable housing for future generations, creating sustainable and accessible homes for all.

A half home could achieve just that, where the land and the bricks and mortar to build ‘Phase I’ are retained by the registered provider, while any expansion is built by and owned by the tenant. Over time, ownership of the whole plot can be sold to the tenant in a fashion similar to our existing shared ownership schemes, with that funding used to procure more half homes.

For such a model to become widely accepted, it would likely be dependent upon a handful of pioneering councils and housing associations demonstrating that it can be achieved through our current policy framework. Indeed, there may be questions over how over or under-occupancy is addressed and where the property has the physical potential to expand but where a household cannot afford this.

Having said that, there are already examples of affordable self-finish flats in England and half-build affordable homes represents the next logical step on from this.

There are likely to be cultural barriers to overcome, but the half house approach provides an immediate and comparatively cheap solution for affordable housing. Furthermore, it will open up government’s self-build initiative to those who would struggle to find a plot of land on the open market, helping to embed a sense of ownership and flexibility in affordable housing.

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Disaster Planning, Half Homes