YMCA: Why the Y:Cube is a solution to affordable housing

YMCA chief Richard James on how one resident's legacy – and a chance meeting – led to their Y:Cube affordable modular homes

It was late on a Thursday night and I was sat in a young residents’ forum meeting in our YMCA hostel. The somewhat dejected comment from Troy, who had lived with us for 12 months, struck home hard:

“I’ve done everything I need to, I’ve got a job, paid my rent, not got into any trouble – I am ready to move on from the YMCA but where can I possibly live in this area – this is my home and I can’t afford to be here.”

I am ready to move on from the YMCA, but where can I possibly afford to live in this area?

Troy had come to us after floating around from sofa to sofa, depending on the support of friends to be able to survive. Eventually his sofa options had run out and he found himself outside the train station, sleeping rough but hopeful.

Eventually he had been picked up by the street team and referred into YMCA. Quite quickly he had demonstrated his ability to take responsibility for himself, but the lack of being able to find anywhere affordable and suitable was proving impossible.

Y:Cube, Mitcham, south London

Troy is not unique across the London metropolitan area. Each night in YMCA St Paul’s Group we host around 1,100 people, most of them young, who have been trapped by Troy’s hidden homeless problem.

Find a job and they lose their benefits, lose their benefits and then they lose any slim hope they have of finding a place to live. They may end up sleeping rough but more often than not they live from sofa to sofa, their hope seeping away with each relocation.

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Whilst we are involved in campaigning for changes in policy that will eradicate homelessness, as a YMCA we also wanted to be positive and suggest an alternative – and then through a chance conversation with world-renowned architects, Rogers Stirk Harbour & Partners, Y:Cube was born.

Y:Cube is YMCA’s contribution to address the lack of affordable accommodation. A Y:Cube is a modular, off-site housing solution which is developed and delivered by us to provide 100 per cent affordable accommodation. Whilst others build profiles on the potential of modular off-site accommodation, we as a YMCA have just got on and delivered it.

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In 2015 we opened our first Y:Cube site in Mitcham, south London (pictured above and below). Each Y:Cube in Mitcham cost approximately £50,000, built and fitted on-site. It provides 28 square metres of quality, affordable accommodation that will allow young people to thrive.

Y:Cube, Mitcham, south London

Not content with stopping there, we now have several other schemes at various stages of planning or development, with lessons for improvement taken from Mitcham. New schemes will have added facilities to improve communities. Unlike the commercial developers, we don’t see the opportunity of modular accommodation as the means to improve our profit margins but rather drive down the rent we charge.

Sadly Troy needed to move on before we could accommodate him in Y:Cube. However he created a legacy that others are benefitting from. Since opening Mitcham we have now merged four YMCAs into one so that we can further invest in more Y:Cubes.

Our next scheme in south-west London will include a Y:Cube-style nursery and a community facility so that we can also offer employment and an apprenticeship to young people like Troy.

Richard James is the CEO at YMCA St Paul’s Group