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John Lewis and Waitrose planning to build 10,000 rental homes above stores & on parking lots

Around the world, people are struggling to find affordable homes. Whatever the cause of the housing shortage — a downturn in building, speculative investments, sky-rocketing cost of materials — there's an urgent need for solutions.

Aiming to ease the burden in the UK, John Lewis Partnership recently announced that it will be building 10,000 rental homes over the next few years. The employee-owned firm, which operates both department store John Lewis and supermarket chain Waitrose, has identified 20 current sites. Homes could be built above stores, or John Lewis might sacrifice parking lot space to house people instead of cars. As reported by the BBC, the firm's executive director of strategy and commercial development Nina Bhatia said: "As a business driven by social purpose, we have big ambitions for moving into property rental."

Of course, it's safe to say John Lewis isn't driven by altruism alone. Demand for offline shopping is down as consumers spend more of their money online, while historically low levels of inventory on the housing market could guarantee John Lewis a steady rental income for years to come.

Trend Bite

Build-to-rent has been taking off over the past decade, with large investors developing purpose-built rental units managed under single ownership. Repurposing retail locations — as John Lewis will be doing — also latches on to the trend of walkable, 15-minute cities, by creating mixed-use neighborhoods that include both residential and commercial properties. Other real estate-owning retailers would be wise to do the same. Taking on the role of a fair (!) landlord is both an opportunity to do good and to cash in on a valuable, underutilized asset.