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Rabbit hutch flats or a solution to Generation Rent? New Pocket homes unveiled in Kentish Town

Developers say they are answering demand for affordable housing with small, one-person homes

03 April, 2017 — By Dan Carrier

Willingham Terrace in Kentish Town

THEY are homes designed for one person, boasting a bedroom, a shower and a living and kitchen area.

And, as Pocket Living unveil a new block in Kentish Town, director Lucian Smithers has told the New Journal that the developer’s business model aims to fill a gap in the market.

The Willingham Terrace development – the firm’s second in Camden – was built on land that once housed council-owned garages, and the 18 one-bedroom homes have all now been sold. Under the firm’s rules, they had to go to people who already live or currently work in the borough.

Mr Smithers said: “We build 100 per cent affordable homes, sold at 20 per cent below what the market rate is.” Because of the cost of land in Camden, the prices, at £315,000, are higher than other Pocket developments. In Ealing, for example, Pocket houses cost £165,000.

The flats are protected from being sold at a profit – the leases state they have to be sold on the same terms they are bought – and they cannot be sub-let or used for temporary rentals. Pocket Living was established 13 years ago, and Mr Smithers said he believes that “millennials” – or “generation rent” – have different needs from older homeowners. Their flats have a bedroom with room for a double bed, a desk and a wardrobe, a hall with storage space and then a living area. To increase the sense of space, the homes have high ceilings, larger than normal door spaces and floor-to-ceiling windows.

“We have been doing this for some time, but it is a trend that has now been recognised by the likes of Ikea and Next,” said Mr Smithers. “Millennials are not consuming in the same way as previous generations. Most of our buyers have been renting for between six to eight years. Shared rented homes mean people have to move quite a lot. This leads to not wanting lots of belongings. Their most expensive possessions are their computer, phone and bicycle.”

Mr Smithers said small developers have a big role to play in alleviating London’s housing shortage. “Developers work hard to get big schemes off the ground, but they take decades,” he said. “We need smaller housing schemes that can be well made and delivered at speed.” Pocket has attracted criticism from people who claim the homes are too small and that they are merely papering over the cracks of Britain’s broken housing system. Instead of handing over public money – the company were given a grant of £21.7m by the Greater London Authority (GLA) for London-wide projects – critics claim the real issues behind housing problems, such as right to buy, the end of councils building homes, and investors parking money in bricks and mortar, are not being tackled.

Mr Smithers said: “Under Margaret Thatcher, the state simply stopped building and the private sector has not increased what they build, nor have housing associations. We have to find another source. This year’s housing White Paper stated that new homes are not coming from volume builders. They are making as many as they can – or will. Housing associations are an option, but so is opening up land for smaller developers.”

And he said the experi­ence of using Camden Council-owned land should inspire others.

Mr Smithers added: “The debate over how to solve the issues around more affordable homes always seems to be negative, instead of saying, ‘this is one way we can do something’. The land was an unused space. No one did anything with it. It could have been developed collectively by a housing co-op – and why not? No one came forward to do that. For me, people need to go out of their way to change London from within.”

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