Another proposed solution to the housing crisis for key workers in London, and one backed by mayor Ken Livingstone, is the LiveIn Quarters initiative. LiveIn Quarters is a company that specialises in modular buildings – flat pack homes designed for single occupancy which can be slotted into disused carparks or playing fields.
Apartments, the first 180 of which are expected to go on sale in London’ Docklands later this year, will cost between £65,000 and £89,000, bringing them within the reach of teachers, nurses and police officers.
The fully furnished properties will be sold below their market value on a shared ownership basis but unlike most such schemes, buyers will not have to pay rent on top of their mortgage for the first five years. The aim is to build thousands of the flats in housing hotspots across the country.
Flats will also be made available for rent from £65 a week and priority for both purchase and rental will be given to people earning less than £30,000 a year. Rents will be controlled and landlords will not be allowed to buy to let.
Demand is expected to be massive. Last year 131,000 Londoners in housing need contacted London’ housing associations about shared ownership opportunities. They were only able to help just over 1,000. The flats will be cheap because they are pre-fabricated, and can be put up in four months – a third of the typical building time for apartments – which will slash labour costs. The flats can be dismantled and rebuilt elsewhere so they can go up in places where permanent housing cannot, such as on land that is set aside to be cleared for roads.
The problem of the cost of land in the capital will be overcome by seeking out landowners such as the NHS or LEAs who have underused spaces like car parks where a block of flats could be slipped in.
These landowners would be asked to donate their land so that their own workers could be housed. The project has received a £4.5m grant from the London development agency under the Keep London Working initiative to retain key workers in London.
Overall, the plan is ambitious. I don’ think it alone will solve the problems of the acute housing shortage facing us but it’ a start. It is a shame that the most radical and focussed objectives and those aimed most directly at key workers will not get as large a slice of the budget as I think is needed to seriously tackle the key worker shortage. For example, my own county, Hampshire, has been allocated a budget to assist just 431 key workers – woefully inadequate for the scale of the problem.