'Ikea for houses' to combat Australia's housing affordability crisis

Alex Symes, founder of Big World Homes.
Alex Symes, founder of Big World Homes.

It's described as "Ikea for houses" and it claims to be the hero we have all been waiting for to save us from the housing affordability crisis in Sydney.

Big World Homes is a flatpack tiny home that it's founder, Sydney architect Alex Symes, said will combat Sydney's housing supply shortage and bridge the gap from renting to home ownership for younger generations.

"We're excited to be launching one of the most progressive, socially oriented, community driven housing projects that Australia has ever seen, at a time when new options in affordable housing have never been more vital," Mr Symes said.

READ MORE: Taupo couple consider making 'tiny house' business

"A transitional housing product that offers a solution to people currently unable to get into home ownership will completely disrupt the housing industry in a way we've never seen before."

Just the same as Ikea furniture, would-be homeowners can build their own tiny home from a flatpack, using just a hammer and drill. The one bedroom, 13.75-square-metre home, which comes on the back of a trailer so it is technically classified as a registered vehicle, will then allow them to live on the cheap and off the grid.

Off-grid meaning "it has all photovoltaic cell [solar cells] and water systems so you can literally just roll up to a location and start living - without having to plug into anything, not even a power socket," as Dr Joanne Jakovich, the urban innovation expert heading up the not-for-profit organisation behind Big World Homes, Big World Communities, explained to news.com.au.

The home is made from structural-thermal-waterproof panels. It includes solar panels providing electricity, running water sourced from in-built rainwater tanks, and gas cylinders for cooking and hot water.

The Big World Home is slightly bigger than an average caravan, which measures about 12 square-metres.

Costing $65,000 to own and live in one of the flatpack homes, Big World Homes said it can cut up to 80% of the typical costs of a stand-alone home. The largest savings coming from land costs, as these Big World Home communities will be using unactivated land in urban centres to live on.

"The concept is that you would be able to work with a developer that has acquired land and is in the process of deciding what to do with it - applying for DAs [development applications], designs, proposals and that sort of thing," Dr Jakovich told news.com.au.

"This might work in with either [the developer's] branding approach to how they build a community and community rapport. It might also work in with their corporate social responsibility programs."

The reason behind targeting unactivated development land in urban centres allows would-be homeowners the option to stay living in the city and close to work. But Dr Jakovich hopes there will be other opportunities to source land in the city, such as schools and community groups. The not-for-profit Big World Communities will be responsible for developing partnerships with developers, councils, community groups and individual landowners to locate off-grid homeowner communities on unused land.

"I think there is a real opportunity with a Big World Homes community ... If you curate the scenario both with the land and the different facilities and amenities next to or on that site, you can bring a lot of value onto the land and activate it and get people thinking about old, leftover sites very differently," Dr Jakovich told news.com.au.

As a transitional housing alternative, Dr Jakovich said she expects people to be living in a Big World Home community for two to five years, after which they can sell back their home to Big World Communities, in a program the not-for-profit is currently setting up.

When asked how the initiative plans to counteract negative perceptions of a transient community of trailer-like homes, Dr Jakovich told news.com.au that the feedback they received at the construction of the first tiny home, ahead of its official launch at the Sydney Architecture Festival today, shows how receptive people are to the idea.

"It is a very designed product. Many people who have walked in there today have said it is nothing like a caravan. They have said it feels like a small apartment. It feels like they are living in a beautiful apartment in Tokyo with all the timber and the natural light.

"There is also the communities angle - so actually curating nice communities. We are really imagining them as places of the future that bring out the best in people. It is like curating a festival for two years. We are actually really thinking through the details of how to make positive and rewarding lives."

But what will be the ultimate success of the initiative, according to Dr Jakovich, is that they are offering a creative solution to a very real problem.

"We looked at [intergenerational inequity] very broadly and thought if we are to continue the tradition or the notion of ownership in our Australian society, we actually need to think of much more creative and lateral ways for that younger generation to transition into ownership.

"You cannot simply just afford to save for a deposit anymore. If you are out on your own and you're not living with mum and dad, then the cost of renting is actually too high."

- news.com.au

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