Smarter Cities: Housing

There’s no shortage of Smart Home devices out there, from voice assistants to smart meters and system controls for heating, lighting and security. So far, these tend to be marketed to consumers and installed ad hoc; at FoL’s 8 February workshop, we explored the potential for smart housing at scale and looked at what role the public sector might play.  

Speakers and participants discussed the relevance of smart technologies for the housing sector and how data analysis can help practitioners understanding tenants’ needs better.

While Smart Cities technologies might seem futuristic, Rupert Parker, Head of Futureproofing at GVA, showed that the internet of things and artificial intelligence are already widely used in products for the commercial sphere, and are ripe for adoption in the housing sector.

At the municipal level, companies like Google are investing heavily in city-scale projects; watch for more of this. At the building scale, connected cameras and sensors can give landlords better information about how buildings are being used and help them make informed decisions about management and maintenance.

On the partnership front, HACT’s Launchpad initiative has connected social landlords and property-focused technology companies to develop products that respond to housing association needs.

Jay Saggar and Kavita Tailor showed how the programme had helped tech companies understand how housing associations work, and landlords to understand some of the ancillary benefits of technologies. For example, a smart meter might help tenants reduce spending on heating but can also show landlords if energy efficiency initiatives are working. 

To promote higher quality data, HACT has developed a housing data standard based on widespread consultation with the sector. The aim is for organisations to gather/create data that is easier to integrate across systems and compare across providers.

The organisation also runs Community Insight, a tool which brings together open data sources to give housing operators insights into their areas and which can inform community engagement, provide an evidence base for decision-making and inform funding bids.

Data science methods also offer insights into tenant needs and behaviours, for better-designed services. Tom Harrison, Digital Transformation Manager at LB Hackney, explained how the council had worked with data science PhD students to develop a machine learning model to understand which tenants were at risk of rent arrears.

Using a decision-tree method, the team identified the characteristics of at-risk tenants, which helped the housing service to change its engagement with those groups and to design interventions to prevent tenants falling into debt.

The presentations were followed by a workshop where participants tackled obstacles to implementing Smart City approaches, especially in the public sector. 

Key points raised included:

  • When engaging with tenants over new technologies, there is no one-size-fits-all approach – different groups will have different concerns and need different types of support.
  • Trials are a useful way to gauge appetite for new technologies and see if residents are receptive; they also reduce cost and risk. Companies may be willing to test and help develop ideas at reduced cost.
  • Smart sensors can collect detailed data but are not useful unless teams have the skills to analyse and act on that data.
  • Guaranteeing control over personal data is key to enabling public acceptance of new technologies and data-based methods.
  • What is ‘smart’ changes over time and futureproofing is essential – new technologies should be reliable enough to perform well over the long term and flexible enough to react to changes in the broader ecosystem.
  • The public sector can influence how technology is adopted in the housing sector if it adopts an active role. The scale of public sector involvement in housing gives it a platform to test technologies and share what works well.
  • For planning policies to promote technologies and standards in new developments, there first needs to be a clear evidence base that shows which technologies are needed and why, and how they should be implemented.

Speakers included:

  • Rupert Parker, Head of Futureproofing, GVA
  • Jay Saggar, Launchpad Coordinator, HACT
  • Kavita Tailor, Innovation Officer, HACT
  • Tom Harrison, Digital Transformation Manager, LB Hackney

Useful links:

Presentations from the event are below:

The Smarter Cities programme is supported by: