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How community-led initiatives can help save the housing shortage

Tom Chance, director at the National Community Land Trust Network, argues that community-led initiatives are a productive way of helping to solve the housing shortage.

Collaboration, it is said, is the key to building more homes, designing them to a high quality, stopping building failures, and all manner of other important objectives. But who is it that collaborates?

Communities are rarely in the frame. Yet more and more community groups are now actively building and renovating homes, demonstrating the value to the public sector of housing co-production.

In West Dorset, community land trusts (CLTs) have built 52 homes in sensitive areas of outstanding natural beauty, and there are over 100 homes in the pipeline. Some, like Lyme Regis CLT, have secured community and councillor backing for sites which would normally be refused or attract local opposition. Residents are much more likely to support new homes if they see that their neighbours are in control of the process, and that the homes will benefit people like them.

The housing portfolio member in West Dorset summed up his council's reason for supporting CLTs last year: they are “powerful social enterprises, sourcing land that would not otherwise be available for housing, either at highly discounted rates or in some instances for free.”

CLTs are one form of community led housing, a sector that also encompasses housing co-operatives, cohousing communities, and development trusts. The Government defines community-led housing in terms of three principles: there is open and meaningful community participation and consent throughout the process; a community group owns, manages or stewards the homes in the long-term and in a manner of their own choosing; and the housing provides a community benefit that is protected in perpetuity.

Leathermarket JMB exemplified the difference between this and conventional consultation. This tenant management organisation has built 23 new social rented homes on a central London estate with support and finance from Southwark Council. The residents led the whole process, getting support for the sort of infill that has become increasingly controversial in the capital. They’re working with their partner, Igloo Community Builders, to build out other underused parcels of land on their estates.

Up the road to the north of Dorset, Bristol City Council is another embracing community led housing. The council believes there are over 1,000 community led homes in the pipeline, a sizeable chunk of its 20-year target for 29,100 homes identified in its Strategic Housing Market Assessment. Given the greater proportion of the 1,000 will be affordable, it’s making an even greater contribution to the need for 18,800 affordable homes.

Bristol is backing the sector with three main policies: supporting an independent Enabler Hub that will help groups form and deliver across the West of England Combined Authority; providing public land in a way that maximises social value; and facilitating finance through Bristol and Bath Regional Capital, a public good investment company it co-founded in 2015. These are underpinned by a community-led housing policy, officer capacity, and a strong interest from the housing portfolio holder Cllr Paul Smith.

Our research has found that West Dorset and Bristol are among a growing number of councils now actively backing community-led housing.

Across England, 14% of councils have adopted supportive policies, 32% have given grants or loans, 9% have sold land or buildings, and 3% have leased land or buildings. These add up to 259 grants and loans and 208 land and building sales or leases. The Government has also given its backing with the £163m Community Housing Fund, which includes provision for local authorities to bid for revenue funding for their own capacity to support the sector locally.

After the local elections, changes clearly lie ahead. Our sector is hoping to see the number of supportive councils and policies continuing to grow. At the National CLT Network, we are very happy to work with other public sector bodies interested in embracing community-led housing. Those interested might like to join the National CLT Network and Dods Group for a Westminster Briefing on Tuesday 23 July, to see how to engage and support community led housing in your local area.

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