Start-up founder Heaney: "If it works on a small scale, it could be scaled up to work in other cities"
I am Dearbhaile Heaney, a researcher and designer from Northern Ireland. I founded a housing start-up here in Belfast (www.theholdingproject.co.uk) which seeks to help young people with housing and saving for their life goals at the same time.
I think the idea of a digital platform which combines work and housing is really fantastic and can imagine exactly how it could work. Young people will have skills and abilities that could benefit others in return for much needed housing, and individuals, businesses and institutions will be able to utilise underused spaces effectively. If people could help each other by posting what they could offer in return for work or housing then we would gradually begin to tackle several social problems at once. The shortage of housing in our cities is an evermore pressing issue and the impact that homelessness, unemployment, loneliness and poverty are having on our society may someday be irreversible if we don't create solutions.
The sharing economy has already revolutionised many business industries with Craig's List, Airbnb and Uber being some of the fastest growing companies in history. In general I believe we are reaching a tipping point where we will want to own less and share more. For me, the first problem that faces a young person who is trying to secure accommodation in a city is the high asking price and the lack of social and economic mobility while they are renting. If this person was able to work, help others or lend skills in return for a home, then this allows them to build relationships, experience and knowledge while having somewhere to live. This enriches the whole process and closes the loop so that wealth (social, cultural and financial) is retained within a community. To retain these things within a community could lead to a culturally and socially richer city which is inclusive and resourceful.
The beauty of a digital platform is that the solutions are self generated by users, rather than a proposal that hopes to fit all persons and situations. It's also low risk if developed cheaply and if it works on a small scale, it could be scaled up to work in other cities.
As with all new ideas, there may be some room for concept development along the way as more of the complexities of the digital platform become obvious. For example, will it be possible to secure long term housing through this method? is there a way to qualify renters/lodgers and landlords through rating systems perhaps?
I am really excited about this idea and really hope it's given a chance to be explored. If it works in Helsinki it could set an excellent example for Belfast, London and beyond.
I have been admiring the work of A Home That Fits - Oman Muotoinen Koti - from Northern Ireland for the last year and am excited to come to visit them in June this year on a Winston Churchill Fellowship.