Policy Supported Housing Management

Using Commercial & Retail Space for Reconfigured Supported Housing in the “Post Covid” Era

This blog post looks at the post Covid 19 challenges facing organisations and people who are involved in Emergency Access Accommodation such as refuges, hostels and night shelters that are physically incompatible with the requirements of social distancing. It’s also relevant to people and organisations looking to fund, commission and develop supported and social housing irrespective of whether they have been involved in Emergency Access Accommodation.

If you’re a commissioner, social/institutional capital funder or supported housing provider please read on and get in touch with me if you want to be involved in the development of supported housing, especially but not essentially, in what was previously commercial property such as office or retail space.

One of the consequences of Covid 19 has been the fact that many of us have been required to work from home. Employers have historically been nervous about letting employees work from home perhaps because they fear the consequences of not being able to physically oversee what they’re doing.

However, one of the unanticipated consequences of Covid 19 has been that many employers have developed systems to manage homeworking situations so that employees are clear about what is expected of them, people can communicate well with each other and employers have discovered, in the main, that their fears were unfounded.

This has significant implications for the future of commercial property; primarily office and retail space. Having been required to bite the homeworking bullet many companies will have realised that they no longer need the office space they had, at least not all of it. Furthermore, the retail sector has retrenched and will retrench further in areas where office space falls vacant. As a consequence, it is likely that there will be a glut of unoccupied commercial buildings the owners of which will be desperate to lease it or sell it at a price which will be accordingly reduced.

Some of these premises will be reconfigurable as living space for social and supported housing, often based in central locations. Covid 19 has made us rethink the practicability of the traditional hostel, refuge and other supported housing provision (Emergency Access Accommodation) where people with additional needs are in close proximity to each other. One pandemic is one pandemic too many, but unfortunately, it’s unlikely to be the last. We have the opportunity, albeit an enforced opportunity, to rethink the configuration of supported housing and to move away from HMO style arrangements and to consider designs that give people more personal physical and communal space.

Appropriate surplus commercial space can be reconfigured to supported housing in such a way as to allow a hostel or refuge HMO to be relocated. Instead of single rooms with shared facilities, we can create more self-contained spaces and buildings that will also accommodate communal and management space. Combine this with the fact that there is a lot of institutional and other capital waiting to be deployed into supported housing, and an enhanced Housing Benefit revenue stream to support repayment of the capital and the operation of reconfigured housing. We might all have an unexpected opportunity for the development of new and better designed supported housing in central locations.

Covid 19 has forced the UK Government and national governments to fund programs to drastically reduce street homelessness at the same time as forcing us to rethink the configuration of HMO configured supported housing/Emergency Access Accommodation such as homelessness hostels night shelters and refuges. Housing First services need housing that can be managed with geographical ease and without sacrificing self-containment. Think of the other client groups you work with in supported housing and what the possible opportunities might be.

Think also about how you might approach the need for both capital and revenue and when you do, please get in touch with me because I can help you with these things.

Michael Patterson 18th August 2020 07376737675