22 Nov 2021

We have a dream for our future homes

We have a dream for our future homes:
warm, secure and comfortable homes which we can afford,
homes that can be adapted to our changing needs through age and time,
homes close by to community facilities, with safe and beautiful green spaces,
homes designed to protect our planet, as well as our families.

The dream doesn’t sound unrealistic, but for too many people, this is far from the reality of their day to day living. The pandemic pulled into sharp focus the stark inequalities in our society and the implications of poor-quality housing, overcrowding and affordability issues on physical and mental health.

We need a system that delivers homes for everyone and offers quality, safety, affordability and choice. Home is not a housing product; home starts from a community. Not just roofs over heads - we need homes within sustainable communities, with facilities to meet people’s daily needs. Well-connected, well-planned, inclusive places with homes and neighbourhoods which rise to the challenge of the climate crisis and an ageing population.

How do we deliver this though? It cannot only be through a focus on property, we must put people at the heart of our every step.

The future for designing our homes

Recently, the Glasgow Climate Pact was agreed between nearly 200 countries at COP26. While it was hard-won, and there is still space to do much more, it is a new starting point for us to do things differently. A place-based systems approach is needed to join all the jigsaw pieces together to maximise our collaborative effort. We need to consider climate, biodiversity, and human society as coupled systems. Homes are key components in that system.

Using a systems approach, our communities will be planned to reduce the overall need to travel by private vehicles and be located in safe places without the risk of flooding and other natural disasters. Our street network will be designed for people not for cars. The beauty of nature will be brought into our neighbourhoods to provide an enjoyable walking and cycling experience for everyone. The integrated green, blue and grey infrastructure can provide adequate functions, as well as be heaven for wildlife and for children to play.

We welcome the government’s commitment in the Future Homes Standard to ensure that once a new house has been built, no refurbishment will be necessary to reach zero-carbon as the electricity grid continues to decarbonise. It is important that new homes built under the Standard will not be reliant on fossil fuels. We would also like to see the Future Homes Standard to be even more ambitious to include calculation of emissions from transport, operational energy, and embodied carbon of new homes.

Focusing on people at the heart of our homes

Our homes need to be part of a community where you can get support whenever you need, and at the same time, you can contribute to make it a better place.

We need to take a person-centred approach, to really understand how we experience ‘home’ and indeed for many - homelessness. While it is vital that we build enough safe, secure and affordable homes, we must consider design in its fullest sense – not only on an aesthetic level, but one that reinforces environmental sustainability and enhances our connectivity with the world beyond our walls.

It is important that we also embrace a mixed economy of delivering the homes we need - this can’t only be achieved through home ownership (which is the focus of current government investment). We all have a part to play and we know that councils and housing associations can work to high standards, one only needs to look at the Stirling prize-winning Goldsmith Street in Norwich for inspiration.

If the government were to commit to making social and affordable housing a national priority and place it at the centre of policy, an opportunity exists to shape a recovery that benefits every community and leaves no one behind – hitting the ‘levelling up’ nail directly on the head. We know this makes social sense – helping to alleviate homelessness in all its guises. But it also makes enormous business sense, with long term savings to be made – as shown in a recent CIH report in partnership with the Centre for Homeless Impact.

Hopes and dreams for the future

Everyone should have access to safe and affordable housing which they can make home. We must learn from best practice during the pandemic to work in an agile and joined-up way to support those who cannot access ‘home’ through the market. 

Homes for the future must be well-designed not only for us, but to protect our planet. They must also be safe and built to withstand emergency situations such as fire and flood.

We should be able to take our home for granted, in the best possible way – to know it is there for us for as long as we need it and that it will adapt to our changing needs.

Homelessness – whether that is rough sleeping or other forms of homelessness – is a blight on our society. CIH is setting out to learn from the lessons during the pandemic, through the presidential campaign Homeful which explores housing-led approaches to resolving and preventing homelessness. 

Our future homes need to be ready for an ageing population. For example, there are around 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK. This figure is projected to increase to 1.6 million people by 2040. The RTPI’s Practice Advice Dementia and Town Planning (2020) gives advice on how town planning can work with other professionals to create better environments for people living with dementia. Evidence has shown that good quality housing and well-planned, enabling local environments can have a substantial impact on the quality of life for someone living with dementia, helping them to live well in their community for longer.

All in all, our shared dream is the idea that everyone is entitled to a good standard of home and environment – not just those who have the financial ability to be able to choose it. We know how important this is, particularly having heard the stories from those in unsafe, unsecure and unaffordable housing during the pandemic's lockdowns. Providing quality and choice of homes and neighbourhoods for all is within our grasp if we work together to turn our dreams into reality.

Written by Jo Richardson and Wei Yang

Jo Richardson is professor of housing and social inclusion and president of the Chartered Institute of Housing.  For more information on her Homeful campaign visit www.cih.org/homeful and www.justgiving.com/campaign/homeful

Wei Yang is president of the Royal Town Planning Institute and chair of Wei Yang & Partners. For more information about Wei’s RTPI Presidential activities visit https://www.rtpi.org.uk/about-the-rtpi/rtpi-presidents/weis-blogs/ and https://www.rtpi.org.uk/about-the-rtpi/rtpi-presidents/presidential-visits/.