Innovative scheme uses shipping containers as homes for the homeless

A new scheme to convert used shipping containers into temporary housing for the homeless has been praised by charities working with people living on the streets. Brighton Housing Trust (BHT) recently announced that the first of a number of shipping containers that will eventually serve as accommodation for 36 people has arrived in the city, helping to provide affordable housing and alleviate pressure on services who work with homeless people.

The organisation says it recorded 43 homeless people in Brighton and Hove in November 2012, an increase on the previous year’s figure of 37. However, it says the actual figure is likely to be between 70 and 100 people. The city’s acute lack of affordable housing, combined with low average incomes, means it has historically suffered from high levels of homelessness. BHT also recently appealed for local people to donate warm clothes and other essential items to help rough sleepers through another winter.

The versatility of shipping containers has seen them put to all sorts of uses in recent years. While they were once primarily used for transporting goods, their low cost and durable construction means they’re often used as portable offices, canteens and shower blocks – even venues for festivals and luxury homes. The units being used in Brighton where originally planned to be used for a social housing project in Amsterdam, a city known for its enthusiastic adoption of container shipping housing, and were provided to BHT at a discounted rate.

When the project is completed, it will see a total of 36 living spaces arranged in three- and five- storey blocks on top of a former scrap metal yard, complete with balconies and external stairs. 21 residents for the scheme have already been found, and the homes are expected to remain on-site for a period of five years. The use of shipping containers as low-cost, temporary housing is fairly commonplace in continental Europe, but this is believed to be one of the first schemes of its kind in the UK.

“We expect residents to be moving in about five weeks after the arrival of the first container on site and turn this exciting and innovative housing concept into reality,” said Ross Gilbert of BHT’s development partner QED. “Our temporary use of land earmarked for future regeneration demonstrates just what can be done in the interim to help solve the acute housing shortage.”

Speaking to the Daily Express, a spokesperson for homelessness charity Homeless Link said: “The estimated number of people sleeping rough has risen sharply in the last two years. In many areas, homeless charities just don’t have enough accommodation for people who need help.

“The Brighton Housing Trust should be praised for coming up with an imaginative, short-term solution to the housing crisis. They will give people somewhere safe to live while they get their lives back on track. However, in the long-run we need action to build more homes.”

Positive schemes like this may be needed more and more in the future, after recent research from homeless charity Shelter found that less than ten per cent of homes are affordable for a typical working family in more than half of the country. According to the charity, even government- backed schemes like Help to Buy will do little to alleviate the pressure – research suggests that first-time buyers would be unable to afford the scheme’s mortgage costs in more than 80 per cent of the country.

The average family would need to save for more than a decade before they can afford the deposit needed to put down for an affordable home, meaning years of paying “dead money” into Call 0800 019 9727 Fax 0870 383 5104 expensive private lets, says Shelter. Additionally, the latest UK census found that home ownership in England has fallen for the first time since records began.

“Young people are working hard and doing their bit. Now the government has to meet people halfway and increase the supply of affordable homes – not the supply of credit – or the prospect of a home of their own will slip even further out of reach for future generations,” said Campbell Robb, chief executive of Shelter.

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