Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners (RSH+P) has designed a housing unit in conjunction with the YMCA that the firm hopes will give homeless people (or "rough sleepers," as the Brits call them) a stable place to get back on their feet.
Developed over three years, the pre-fabricated Y:Cube House costs only about £30,000 to produce and is very energy-efficient, requiring only £7 a week to heat. They look like cartoon houses with no chimney, clad in bright red panels. The flat-packed construction system allows for easy assembly and mobility, in order to accommodate the changing needs of the YMCA. The houses' parts are built in a factory with precision-cut glue-laminated timber sections assembled by hand, and put together on site using just two types of screw. Anyone who has put together IKEA furniture can tell that this is a benefit.
The homes will serve as a transitional space for those who have depended on the YMCA's hostel program. The homes will be rented out over three- to five-year contracts at a price of £560 per month.
Advocates of the program seem to think that this will allow people time to gain skills and save up for a deposit, which can be a big hindrance to those looking for housing. A group of investors will provide capital for development of more units at a 5% return, assuming the system takes off. If it does, it could be used for infill of otherwise unused sites. The YMCA houses are a part of the larger Insulshell project (developed by Sheffield Insulated Group and Cox Bench), using the same process.
According to the program's creators, this could be a solution to London's housing crisis. The system does subvert some of the realities of developer-led construction, such as the drawn-out process that saps money from budgets, and it explicitly states that its investors will only make a 5% return, which will let the project operate more like a social service than a purely profit-driven project. Because they are technically classified as temporary, the square footage of these houses is falls under the usual size mandate for housing.
While this is all smart and good, the project raises some larger questions. Is this really the answer to the 6,000+ homeless in London? Is it possible for some kind of large-scale program of temporary social housing to exist outside of a traditional rent-based system? Is it necessary for these units to be so large, elegantly designed and single-occupancy? Tell us what you think in the comments below.