Adobe Stock/candy1812 ANNA GRIGORJEVA

Smart design marries with unused urban space to provide much needed, affordable living units in a desirable area. Start ups, like Lowe Guardian are bringing these unique solutions to the affordable housing issue and hoping they get traction in the right markets.

Three years ago, as a 26-year old struggling to find an affordable place to live in London–but, as a young professional, earning too much for subsidized housing–Tim Lowe embarked on an experiment. For four months, he would try living in whatever housing he could find for less than £500 (around $800 at the time) in Central London.

He ended up in a houseboat, a housing commune, a converted horse trailer, a prototype of a pop-up tiny house, a co-living community in a former office building, and in vacant buildings where he acted as a live-in “property guardian” for the owners. Guardianship had challenges–in one building, he lived with rats, heat that couldn’t be turned off in the summer, and shared a neglected shower with 20 other people. But he recognized the potential for making use of temporarily vacant buildings for much-needed housing.

Lowe founded a startup, Lowe Guardians, that now converts empty buildings into clean, safe, desirable, and cheap housing. For building owners, having temporary residents provides free security and qualifies them for a tax break. For “guardians,” it’s an affordable way to live in a central part of the city. “It opens up and unlocks spaces that people wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford,” says Lowe.

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