Supporting delivery of key worker housing

Chris Seeley and Jane Alderman, one of ARK’s team of consultants, discuss the role of Key Worker housing post Covid.

The Covid 19 crisis has shone a light on the inadequacies of the housing market and emphasised the housing crisis we face in the UK. The effect of poor housing conditions, overcrowding and the extent of homelessness have all been highlighted.

Another area which has been highlighted relates to affordability and in particular affordability for key workers, those who have played such an important and vital role in the battle against Covid 19. People who work in these services are often on low and moderate incomes and are unable to afford to live near their place of work, frequently resulting in long and costly commutes or the alternative of living in expensive and lower standard accommodation near to their place of work.

There has recently been recognition that one of the positive outcomes of the pandemic would be to recognise and to address this issue. This has resulted in a campaign for a new “Homes for Heroes” programme to create 100,000 more affordable homes for essential workers. The campaign is backed by an alliance of housing associations, offsite manufacturing firms and many others across the property sector. A report commissioned by the London G15 Housing Associations identified the following key actions needed to deliver the 100,000 homes:

  • Create a national programme of low-cost homes prioritised for the heroes who have put themselves at risk to keep us alive and healthy throughout this crisis;
  • Deliver an initial burst of thousands of homes within months, by matching government funding with housing association resources to make completed homes and those under construction available on a low cost basis for essential workers;
  • Support a high-tech manufacturing base to create jobs across the country – powering a long-term ambitious programme to deliver the low-cost homes our heroes need;
  • Spread the costs across society by part-funding the homes through public giving, public land, government funding and housing associations’ resources.

In the early part of the 2000’s key worker housing had a higher profile, including direct Government funding initiatives, however, in the last decade there has been only limited recognition of the housing difficulties that key workers face. But the crisis has meant not only a recognition of the importance of, but also a redefinition of a Key worker. The traditional “blue light” and wider NHS worker and teacher definitions have been extended to include care workers, delivery, bus and taxi drivers, shop workers, refuse collectors and others. We will need to settle on a suitable definition, but it is very clear that for our society to function in a crisis then these are the people we need.

Their incomes are low; as the G15 report says new homes “need to be affordable to people on a range of incomes, from the lowest paid to those on median NHS incomes”. And they have proposed more Social Rented and Shared Ownership homes together with a new Discounted Rental model. Work will be needed on the shared ownership lease and the discounted rent model but the pieces are in place to deliver both quickly.

We also need to be ambitious about the homes and places our essential workers will live in defined by the G15 as “homes which are energy efficient, beautifully designed, and digitally connected. Homes with private outside areas and access to high quality green spaces”. This is not a new ambition and associations and councils have shared their ambitions to provide such homes across the tenure spectrum.

ARK has a great deal of experience in key worker housing dating back to those early funding initiatives, more recently and prior to the current crisis we have noticed a renewed interest in key worker housing. This was a theme that emerged strongly from our discussions with stakeholders as part of a research project we undertook in the Autumn of in 2019 for a client.  It now seems even more relevant. We are at the forefront of understanding the many issues associated with delivering key worker housing. Not least, who is a key worker, what are they able to afford, what are their preferences in terms of housing and how to deliver, affordable and sustainable housing for these vital employees. We are ready to respond to Government initiatives and support individual organisations in understanding and delivering key worker housing.

You can find the G15 report here

If you would like to discuss how ARK can support your organisation in the delivery of key worker housing, contact us – ark@arkconsultancy.co.uk