When I first came to England in 1979 my first home was a room in a shared house. This is not uncommon for many in Brighton and Hove, not least our student population. It will become more common as housing benefit changes restrict anyone under the age of 35 to benefit levels equivalent to a room in a shared house. Coming into force on January 1st, the change will see 820 men and women now competing for shared housing, creating greater competition for families looking for homes.
A few years later, having moved into other shared housing, I secured a tenancy for a bedsit with my own kitchenette and bathroom and my own front door. It felt like a palace. In reality the total floor space was less than my office at BHT, but it was mine.
I was a good tenant, paid my rent on time, didn’t disturb my neighbours, and helped keep the common ways clean and tidy. I got to know my landlord and a year or so later when a two bedroom flat in the same block became available, I was offered the tenancy. It was my home for the next seven years.
I was also able to make a recommendation to my landlord about who should be offered the tenancy of the tiny bedsit. I nominated someone who is amongst my oldest friends and for the past 26 years my colleague at BHT, John Holmström.
And it is to John that BHT owes many of its best ideas. It was his vision that saw the transformation of the Phase 1 Project that had previously been the Regency House Hotel, one of the most run-down, flea and rat-infested hovels inBrighton. John brokered the partnership that brought in the money and expertise to make the vision a reality.
John also came up with a solution to the lack of accommodation for men and women in psychiatric hospitals. He saw the opportunity to bring together private sector housing, health services and welfare benefits, and from his understanding the award-winning Route 1 Project was created. It now forms an invaluable part of the strategy for housing solutions for those with mental health problems.
John has now coined the phrase “Transition Housing” to encapsulate an idea to resolve the tensions between housing availability, affordability, standards, density, lack of land supply and financially viable developments. The immediate challenge is to have a conversation in the City to achieve consensus around his vision.
He explained the concept: “At the heart we need to come to terms with single people having to live more densely so we can free up as much space for family housing as possible. For this we have to be smarter about how successful denser living can be achieved. If we have less private space for example, we need to look at how communal spaces can be better used.
“For those without a study area for a computer we need to ensure better and greater use of libraries, schools and other community spaces. Rather than everybody having their own washing machine, we need shared laundry facilities in blocks of flats. Such lifestyle adjustments will also help residents be more environmentally friendly.
“Where space is too small to have overnight visitors, we would need a spare guest flat that could be used for occasional visitors.”
John said to me that he knows that “there will be a million and one questions” but that should not hold us back from doing something imaginative, something bold, something “very Brighton” to address one of the obvious and immediate needs in the City.
I believe John has come up with something very exciting that must be taken forward. In the very near future I hope to see Transition Housing become a widely endorsed concept. And if you don’t like the name, could I suggest ‘Holmström Housing’?