Innovation in Homes 5: Building Better | Big Society Capital

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Innovation in Homes 5: Building Better

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For our “Innovation in Homes” series, Karen Ng, Investment Manager at Big Society Capital, interviewed Trina Chakravarti. Trina is part of the Building Better team at National Housing Federation’s Creating Our Future programme. 

What specific problems are you trying to address? Why are these important?

Our challenge is to create a way to build high quality homes more quickly, designing them around the needs of the people we house.

From over 80 interviews, 40 research papers and 800 hours immersed in the problem, there are three key problems with the current model for development and how it affects housing associations that we believe our idea can solve:

  1. Quality: An obsession with numbers in the development process means cost and quantity of housing rule at the detriment of quality. The prevalence of short term thinking combined with a lack of ownership in the system leads to value engineering, which can have devastating consequences for resident safety
  2. Skills crisis: There is a well document skills crisis in the traditional construction industry and no amount of training can create the numbers of people needed to deliver the homes we need at the scale and speed at which we need them
  3. Affordability: The housing crisis is as much, if not more, a crisis of affordability, as it is a crisis of supply

What is the idea that you are working on? How does it relate to insights that you have gathered?

Our idea is to create a set of standardised designs for housing associations to deliver through a collaborative approach. There are two key elements to the idea:

Standardised designs:

The element of standardisation will drive efficiency, as it ensures housing associations are not starting from a blank sheet of paper every time, and quality, because of the manufacturing approach to delivery.

A continuous process of refinement means that housing associations can be confident the designs are improving over time. These designs are created with all of the necessary stakeholders right at the beginning of the process. This ensures that the designs are right for tenants, housing associations, planners, designers, and the offsite manufacturers that will be signing off, building and living in them.

Lower lifecycle costs: Built into offsite manufacturing is the ability to gather and analyse data on all parts of the homes. This information will drive lower costs in asset management but can go further in providing predictive information on components at a larger scale. Over a 100 year life cycle, 86% of the cost of a single home  is based on managing maintenance costs (with only 1% is design and 13% on construction). 

Using the technology afforded by offsite has the potential to revolutionise how we care for our properties, and what they cost us in the future.

These cost savings are significant for asset owning housing associations if they are to have more funds to build homes and invest in their residents.

How can housing associations work together to implement your idea?

Our work to chart what housing associations have done with respect to modern methods of construction revealed that a lot has already been done. However, most of this work has been in silo and has progressed, at most, to pilots of between 5-10 homes. This smaller scale approach can never unlock the benefits of a manufacturing approach to housing delivery. For us to realise the benefits as a sector, we need to work together.

In the past, offsite providers have needed a big enough order to commit on cost, while housing associations have wanted to see a robust product first delivered. Our idea hinges on housing associations being prepared to use their collective buying power to realise the gains that brings. We believe our idea is the right solution to this problem because of its simplicity and timing.

We are inviting housing associations to participate as early adopters on our standardised design platform.

We hope to provide a way to share the risks and returns of offsite manufacturing. Housing associations that use our standardised designs will benefit from a product that works, but that will also continue to be improved in the future. They will also gain access to the information on the performance of not only their homes, but homes belonging to housing associations across the sector, which will enable them to make informed decisions about what they spend, how many homes they build and what they can deliver that really meets the needs of their residents.

Last updated | 
11 September 2018

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