Social housing – especially homes suitable for families – is often in short supply. It is often difficult to offer anything other than a temporary solution, and waiting lists tend to be long and over-subscribed. Additionally, affordable rentals are thin on the ground in metropolitan areas, especially where the workforce tends to be young and mobile in combination with the aspirational nature of city living.
However, one borough in London, England, may have hit upon a solution which could be adopted not only across the United Kingdom, but in other cities worldwide. In what is termed London’s first “pop-up village”, a structure offering not just homes but ground floor office and retail space has sprung up on the former site of a leisure centre in Lewisham, in the south east of the city. Eventually, new social housing and a new school will be built here, but for now, The Place is a colourful and longer-term solution than the bed and breakfast accommodation the families housed there were previously living in.
The 24 homes cost £4.3 million (around $5.2 million dollars) to construct, and are completely portable, meaning that when plans for the new development are finalized, the units will literally ‘move house’ elsewhere, either within the Greater London area, other boroughs across the UK, or even overseas.
The housing units aren’t technically social housing – the rent is pitched somewhere between the usual social housing charge and a private rental – but the cost of living there is covered by housing benefit, paid to families on low incomes who cannot otherwise afford to rent privately, and for whom there is no suitable social housing available.
Aside from the social benefit of having a ready-made pop up village providing a mixture of housing and business space, the housing itself is an innovation. Completely factory-built, the costs of construction onsite are dispensed with, cutting costs further. The units were created in two parts – one comprising a fully-fitted kitchen and bathroom, the other, two reasonably-sized bedrooms. Fitting on the back of a lorry, homes The Place (as the pop-up village is called) are also cheap to run costing around $12-13 to heat per month during colder weather. The entire outer area is a floor to ceiling window, giving the apartments maximum daylight. The interior walls are MDF, meaning that refurbishment between tenancies is both quick and cost-effective, and the bright outer cladding replaces in much the same way a bright phone cover might be swapped for a more businesslike look during the working week.
The brainchild of architects Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners (who were also behind the Y:Cube – studio apartments helping the homeless to get off the streets), the units are expected to have a lifespan of around 60 years, and cost under £100,000 ($122,00) to produce.
As the cost of buying a new home is out of the reach of so many, these versatile and cost-effective modular homes could be popping up near you soon.

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