How Do We Overcome the Social Housing Crisis?

An Asset Management (AM) Approach for Affordable and Sustainable Social Housing

The UK is facing its most severe housing crisis since the 1970s. There is a significant shortage of quality homes. Housing costs are overwhelmingly high, with home ownership often unattainable, and homelessness is on the rise. As such, affordable housing is now considered one of the most important measures through which to improve public life.

The UK Government, through Homes England, has allocated a £4billion fund to help more than 70,000 families and individuals own or rent their homes across the next five years. However, keen to avoid the mistakes of the past, housing providers across the UK are looking for alternative, innovative ways to deliver the Government’s mandated new housing programme.

One way in which to meet the target of the housing programme is through asset management. Applying asset management principles to the scheme would see the use of off-site modular manufactured homes to implement large-scale social housing programmes. This would offer housing providers an innovative, exciting new approach and would address the affordability, and the environmental and social challenges, of the social housing market.

Off-site modular manufactured homes are not a new approach. However, this style of home still only represents a very small fraction of new build housing programmes. Adding the asset management dimension would enable housing providers to achieve significant change. This step would make social housing not only more affordable but also more sustainable, both from a cost of ownership and environmental perspective.

Adopting best appropriate practices in asset management creates a framework for housing providers. It allows them to test, prepare and implement a large scale off-site modular manufactured homes programme. This would all be conducted in line with stringent industry regulations and guidelines.

The framework will ensure that risks and opportunities are identified prior to roll out. This would include:

  • Reducing and controlling the severe high rising housing costs across many regions of the UK
  • Establishing scalable and repeatable processes to generate financial economies of scale
  • Increasing commercial competition by encouraging sensible and reasonable suppliers’ profit margins to help control rising price trends
  • Adopting a whole-life cycle approach to asset management when considering alternative design and construction technologies. This would include factory built, off site modular manufactured homes with an integrated approach to asset maintenance following completion of new homes
  • Influencing internal and external policy and perceptions to create a modular-friendly trading environment, allowing scalability and pipeline development for off-site homes first
  • Embracing digital technologies and adopting a structured and efficient approach to asset information management. This would include using the most appropriate digital technologies, such as BIM (Building Information Model), GIS (Geographic Information System), EAMS (Enterprise AM System) and e-procurement.

Controlling these risks, and taking advantage of opportunities through an integrated and whole-life cycle approach to asset management, would enable more families and individuals to move into their new homes quickly. The housing would be configurable to meet specific family needs, as well as provide new residents with more affordable running and maintenance costs long-term.

For one such housing provider, studies have indicated that off-site modular manufactured homes support a strong business case for their deployment. This is based on objective economic, environmental and social principles and criteria.

Modular homes can provide:

  • Lower design costs using BIM models of house types. This also enables customised designs at little or no extra cost, creating a more pleasant streetscapes than traditional and unappealing housing estates
  • Significantly lower build costs compared to the traditional bricks-and-mortar approach
  • Shorter development programme, reduced from 10 months to four months for circa. 10 homes. This reduces inconvenience to neighbours and communities, with homes installed over a period of days once groundworks are complete
  • More environmentally friendly, through lower waste production on site, use of eco-friendly materials and lower carbon footprint during construction
  • Minimisation of energy costs for residents: reduced thermal bridging, improved air tightness and A-rated windows through fabric energy efficiency
  • Enhanced acoustic performance between dwellings, eight decibels better than existing regulations
  • Improved health and safety, minimising the amount of potentially dangerous work on site through maximum factory-based machine production
  • Long term quality assurance and protection against defects. All systems are suitable for gaining NHBC, or equivalent, new build warranty for a minimum of 10 years
  • Opportunities for turn-key solutions and fewer contractual interfaces.

There is a sound and sustainable life cycle-based case for off-site manufactured homes, as opposed to the traditional 20th century build, based on best practice asset management principles and industry requirements. If housing providers’ readiness to build new home types is assessed stringently, it will be possible to develop an approach through which to prepare people, processes, tools and technologies to create new housing. This approach will provide greater confidence, not only in the added value of modular homes but also in housing providers’ readiness to receive new homes throughout the duration of the housing development programme.

This is more than just a great idea. One housing provider has already taken the modular build approach, and is now in a pilot project site phase. Approximately 80 new homes have been selected, planning applications are being prepared, and procurement and contract frameworks are being developed, which will lead to new homes being built in accordance with best practice asset management principles within the next six to eight months. Watch this space!

How do we get the housing sector and Government to cooperate, adopt and accelerate this approach? No-one is say it’s easy. However, from a social and commercial perspective, it’s a ‘no brainer’. What do you reckon?

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