As rough sleeping continues to rise year on year, a solution has never been more urgent. The homelessness crisis is a tough problem to crack, but modular pod accommodation may just be the answer we’ve been searching for, PBC Today explains

According to Crisis, the national charity for homeless people, an estimated 227,000 people are currently experiencing homelessness in the UK. That’s a staggering 2000 more people that are more homeless since 2018 and equates to around 1 in 52 people. This number continues to rise year on year – with the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic lingering and exacerbating an already prevalent issue, as financial situations worsen as a result of redundancy and job uncertainty.

Latest figures released from the Office of National Statistics (ONS) have shown that inflation has surged to 5.4% in the 12 months up to December 2021, which is the highest rise since March 1992. The drastic increase in the cost of living, which has been rising steadily over the last few years, has made it increasingly difficult to find monetary stability in our current economic climate.

Alongside this, there is a national shortage of affordable and accessible housing, making it harder for people to enter the housing market without financial help, and rented accommodation is just as difficult to secure. It is more apparent than ever, that if the UK government want to reach their ambitious housebuilding target of 300,000 homes a year by the mid 2020’s, alternative methods of housing need to be considered.

Research from Forbes shows that whilst modular is on the rise, the UK is still slow on the uptake compared to other countries, with only 7.5% of homes using modular or prefabricated elements compared to Japan (15%), Germany (20%), and Sweden (84%).

The benefits of modular

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In order to understand more about why modular is ideal for tackling homelessness, it’s important to understand the benefits of modular construction as a whole.

Modular buildings, used as both permanent and temporary solutions, are constructed off-site in controlled conditions, using the same materials and codes as traditional housing, and then transported to the job site for a completed building.

The nature of their construction means that they are extremely time efficient, with up to a 70% faster delivery rate than traditional construction methods. Moreover, as the units are already pre-fabricated the construction time is therefore lessened, which also saves cost on labour.

As the construction sector is facing skills shortages and a reduced workforce as a result of Brexit and knock-on effects of the pandemic, modular aids in construction site productivity. Because modular construction takes place in a controlled environment, weather delays are also no longer a hindrance to construction times, making it much easier for construction teams to hit targets!

Pod accommodation: The solution?

The problem is that many local councils are struggling to provide temporary accommodation for homeless people and rough sleepers across the UK. With government cuts and issues surrounding sourcing temporary accommodation due to difficulties trying to access the private rental sector, councils are seeing more and more strain on funds, which sadly leaves people with little to no option. That’s why now more than ever, a cheap, quick, and sustainable solution is needed.

That’s where modular pod accommodation comes in.

There have been various schemes across the UK and worldwide that use modular construction to aid in providing temporary and long-term accommodation for homeless people.

Pod accommodation has been described as ‘a halfway house between temporary accommodation and fully-fledged independent living’, which has taken off in recent years and is becoming a popular choice for homeless accommodation, particularly in cities.

The Ulmer Nest

In January 2021, the city of Ulm in Germany showcased the pod accommodation as a form of emergency accommodation where people could reside to keep them warm and protect them against the harsh winter climate.

Designed by Wilhelmsbuero, the Ulmer Nests are designed from wood and steel, making them a durable and weatherproof ‘frostbite shelter’, which also utilises IoT technology to provide support and assistance to the people using the shelters.

The SoloHaus scheme

Since then, other countries have also stepped forward with their own take on modular pod schemes. SoloHaus, launched by Hill Group, is another example of how companies are addressing the homeless crisis.

When the first lockdown came into place in March 2020, many companies recognised the urgent need for action, to get people off the streets and into safe temporary accommodation. Described as ‘an innovative approach to tackling homelessness’, SoloHaus is an environmentally sustainable and efficient safe home.

The pods are designed to save costs and provide efficiency. Because they are constructed using modular techniques, the pods are extremely quick to build and are fully tested and commissioned predelivery. The pods are even described as ‘stackable’, with the option to add another storey.

So, let’s talk about costs. Currently, each pod costs around £47,000 to build, and only cost £5 in electricity costs per week. Considering that each home is available to the renter for two years, this is a great alternative to temporary accommodation, which can become costly and runs on a nightly basis, meaning that there is often a lot of anxiety and uncertainty of where your next bed will be.

‘Creating truly diverse housing solutions for all’

We reached out to Andy Hill, CEO of The Hill Group, who commented:  “We set up Foundation 200 in late 2019 to provide high-quality follow-on accommodation for people experiencing periods of homelessness at a cost of circa £15m. The foundation committed to gifting 200 modular homes to support those most in need to provide a safe and secure place to live.

“SoloHaus is a modular home designed specifically for use as follow-on accommodation to ease homelessness. The robust homes are built at our factories and are extremely easy to transport, arriving fully complete and ready for simple site connection and commissioning.

“The homes are designed for a single person and come fully equipped with everything residents need, including furniture, white goods and bedding. Thanks to air source heat pumps and mechanical ventilation heat recovery systems, they are extremely energy efficient, with running costs of less than £5 per week. “

“Solutions like SoloHaus happen through innovative collaborations. The private sector needs to come together with local authorities and charities to address the important social issues in our communities.

“We are now calling on the government, local authorities and landowners to back the initiative and help identify small plots of underused land as sites for the homes. Beyond the 200 units we are gifting, the modular units are in production and available for local authorities and charities to purchase in the quantities that they require.

“We aim to ensure that the SoloHaus remains affordable and accessible to as many partners as possible so that we can collectively as an industry, and as a country, do more to create truly diverse housing solutions for all.”

Pod schemes, in action

Currently, there is an accommodation scheme in the London borough of Redbridge which houses pod-like modular homes. Malachi Place was made available to The Salvation Army on a 5-year lease, to offer a pop-up hostel in Illford’s town centre. The scheme uses converted shipping containers and currently houses 42 people.

And it’s not only major cities that are considering modular pod accommodation as a solution to housing the homeless. Pembrokeshire County Council, in Wales, have repurposed a former school site into a homeless refuge using pod homes.

The site is formed of eight pre-constructed pods and offers refuge to those who need it, helping people to transition from temporary accommodation to a permanent housing solution.

Is pod accommodation an achievable solution?

Of course, there is no simple solution to homelessness. Although pod accommodation is a serious breakthrough in temporary accommodation, as the numbers of rough sleepers rises, so does the demand for accommodation.

What we have seen from the recent lockdowns though, is that where there is enough demand, solutions can happen, and the pandemic has certainly shown the overall benefits of modular temporary accommodation.

Not only a more sustainable solution and significantly cheaper to run as a whole, modular pods can also be assembled quickly to meet demand onto a plot of land or space that is currently unused.

This means that local councils don’t need to build into new land, and space can be repurposed to accommodate the pods. The pre-assembled nature of modular also means minimal disruption for surrounding residents!

One of the most appealing parts of the accommodation is the independence that the pods offer to the people that use them, representing more than just a safe place to stay, but a transition from temporary shelter to permanent housing.

 

Lydia Bamford

lbamford@pbctoday.co.uk

Twitter:@Lydia_PBCToday

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