Homelessness and interim accommodation: Addressing a national problem

March 20, 2020

Nicolas Maari, Head of Architecture at RSK company Pellings, writing in the latest issue of Architects Datafile, outlined his key piece of advice for other architects when designing interim accommodation for the homeless: “the main thing to remember [when designing interim accommodation] is that we are not trying to achieve award-winning architecture. We are trying to solve a problem.”

According to research by the housing charity Shelter, there are at least 320,000 homeless people in the UK; the number increased by a third between 2012 and 2018. Since the Homelessness Reduction Act came into force in 2018, councils have a legal obligation to find homeless people somewhere to stay. During the last year, Pellings has seen “a rise in requests to work on [housing] projects for this vulnerable demographic”, ranging from an ongoing redevelopment project in Hertfordshire, UK, to a fast-paced new housing scheme in Kent. But the process of bringing this accommodation to life is not without its challenges.

Temporary accommodation units

Pelling is acting as the architect up to the planning stage, and then as the employer’s agent for 74 new temporary accommodation units

“While there is widespread public support for getting homeless people into suitable accommodation, several designing and planning challenges, as well as objections from the local community, continue to arise,” Nicolas explains. “The crux of the problem is planning consent. While councils are trying to tackle the issue of interim homes for the homeless, there is no suitable planning class for this type of housing. This makes the job of an architect a tricky one, but what makes the situation sadder is that planning issues can often stall the build over a long period, meaning more people remain homeless, thus exacerbating the problem.”

The Hertfordshire project

The Hertfordshire project, which is surrounded by general housing, came up against many objections

To tackle this problem, Nicolas says “it is certainly worth looking at what has been done before to get an idea of what is achievable. It is also important to understand exactly what the local authority’s objections are, so their requirements are fulfilled. Robustness, speed of delivery and low maintenance are common needs for interim accommodation.”

You can read the full article in Architects Datafile online (pp.22–24).