A community approach to housing in a tough funding climate

A key question facing the UK at this time is how to make its housing sector, in a challenging operational context, fit for purpose. With a lengthy list of factors to consider – from weak economic recovery to welfare reform impacting on tenants’ incomes and making the funding environment uncertain – an innovative approach is arguably called for. As a provider of funding information services to UK housing associations, Idox understands the growing remit of these organisations in being able to support economic growth and social cohesion – responsibilities that go far beyond meeting essential housing needs.

Reflecting on the current context, the Building and Social Housing Foundation (BSHF) suggests an effective means of addressing the crisis may be to help people help themselves by engaging with community-led housing. Although ‘community-led housing’ is a generic term covering a variety of housing models and options, broadly speaking it represents the model through which local people and their communities take a leading role in the development of their own housing solutions. The model – which incorporates Community Land Trusts, mutual and cooperatives, cohousing and self-builds – aims to create sustainable, affordable and lasting homes, build resilient and confident local communities, and help local people to develop skills they never knew they had.

The last two to three years have seen the fastest-ever growth of community-led housing initiatives. Plans are unfolding across the country as new housing societies materialise. Whilst all of these organisations are unique and often share more differences than similarities, they are united by the shared belief that involved communities are happier communities and that local people care about what happens to the place they live in in a way that nobody else will. According to BSHF, more and more communities throughout the UK are looking for ways to resolve their own housing problems and several are already engaged with the development of community-led activities at a grass-roots level.

Whilst community-led housing is still fairly marginal in the UK, with current estimates suggesting that it represents less than 1% of the nation’s housing, it is happening on a much wider scale in other countries. 80% of housing in Sweden is community-led, and many cities in the developing world – where a majority of people have no choice but to find their own solutions to their housing needs – are predominantly built up through community-led initiatives.

Taking action

It follows that the Government wants builders, investors and local councils to increase the supply of both new-builds and repurposed empty homes. The Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) has set out that it wishes to see progress via the overhauling of unnecessarily complex regulations, providing finance for projects that can’t proceed without it, and helping buyers who can’t afford to buy a home because they can’t afford the deposit. Recent initiatives include support for smaller builders through the £500 million Get Britain Building scheme, and most recently through the £525 million Builders Finance Fund (an example of one of the many funding schemes covered on Idox’s GRANTfinder). Additionally, the Government has identified enough formerly used, surplus public sector land to support up to 100,000 new homes and is looking to sell this quickly to help ensure further progress.

Together with strategic support from central government, numerous community-led housing initiatives are currently underway. LATCH (Leeds Action to Create Homes) has brought 25 long term empty properties in to use over the last three years alone. By working with volunteers to renovate homes and manage their portfolio, LATCH has not only helped over 52 individuals develop their skills through the refurbishment process, but has been able to provide properties with a high standard of thermal performance (EPC rating B), which are now being let at social rent prices to local homeless people in need. Meanwhile, HPBCs (Housing People Building Communities) Kingsley Road Project is an award-winning collection of 32 affordable new homes in the Granby-Toxteth area of Liverpool, created in partnership with the housing and care provider Sanctuary Group. The houses have been built largely by volunteers, who were all given the opportunity to become home partners in return for their time. These home partners spent at least 500 hours working on the Kingsley Road building site or supporting HPBC with administrative help, in return for a £10,000 reduction in the cost of their new home. In order to keep costs down, the Kingsley Road Project also relied on donations of money, materials and gifts in kind. The Project has provided individuals and families that wouldn’t ordinarily be able to afford to own a home of their own, but that have strong ties to the local area, the opportunity to do just that.

Reviewing the impact of community-led housing initiatives, BSHF has identified numerous other benefits, including:

  • The provision of permanently affordable housing and other bespoke housing solutions which cater specifically to the needs of local people.
  • An improved quality of housing stock through the renovation and reuse of existing buildings.
  • Greater affordability through low carbon housing, reducing utility and energy costs in addition to lessening the impact on climate change.
  • Community ownership of assets and retention of local wealth enabling access to further funding.
  • Support for local supply chains and improving the skills and employability of local people.
  • Strengthened communities with increased confidence, capacity and control.

Despite the fact that community-led housing has so many social benefits, it still remains a largely unknown and underdeveloped area of the housing sector.

The hidden movement?

Although small and relatively unknown, a report from Locality has found that the sector is actually far bigger than expected. It noted there are currently:

  • 1,300 registered charities owning, managing, delivering or supporting housing services across England and Wales
  • 1,669 Almshouse organisations
  • 1,386 Registered Providers of community-led housing, of which 47% have less than 250 homes
  • 182 Tenant Management Organisations (TMOs)
  • 736 Housing Co-operatives
  • 113 Self Help Housing Organisations
  • 29 Development Trusts
  • 19 Community Land Trusts (CLTs)
  • 18 Cohousing communities

However, these figures only show the numbers of organisations with completed community-led housing schemes, and therefore are not representative of the numerous housing projects that are currently being developed by communities across the UK. BSHF recognises that because many community-led housing projects are simply busy ‘getting on with it’ – their achievements aren’t receiving widespread attention or recognition, resulting in the sector being larger and more active than expected. This also means that knowledge of the sector is not being shared effectively between those who have become experts in the field and those that are new to the movement. BSHF, with funding from the Nationwide Foundation, is keen to make more noise about community-led housing initiatives and increase awareness in order to aid the sector to work better together. Not only does it want to help new projects complete their plans faster and more efficiently, it wants to give people who have lost faith in housing a voice, and make it easier for them to do something about it.

Conclusion

Interest in community-led housing initiatives is undoubtedly growing. Existing community-based organisations, groups with shared housing ambitions, housing associations who want to empower their tenants or the communities in which they work, housing association or council tenants who want to take more control over their homes, private renters who feel exploited or insecure, local authorities who want to support and empower their residents, and even developers who want to think and act differently, are all as likely as each other to journey down the community-led housing path.

By Emma Wootton and Sion Stedman, Idox
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Idox supports housing associations, their staff and their tenants in their bid for funding for community projects and skills development via a dedicated suite of solutions including GRANTfinder 4 Housing and Open 4 Training & Development. For further details, please email grants.marketing@idoxgroup.com

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