A roof of one’s own

  • Big Thinking
  • Place & Society

Community-led housing in the UK is finally beginning to catch up with the ambitions of our European neighbours. But it needs support at a local level. Paul Kelly looks at how these hyper-local schemes contribute to a vibrant nationwide network that tackles housing needs from the ground, up.

The built environment accounts for 40% of all the UK’s carbon emissions

Housing is a basic human need. Yet it’s impossible to think of a more complex service in this country. 

Tales of unaffordable house prices for renters or buyers, lack of provision or diversity of choice – as well as the impact housing has on the climate emergency (did you know the built environment accounts for 40% of all the UK’s carbon emissions?) – underpin a complex narrative. Housing as a commodity adds to the challenge: people are encouraged to see it as a means of building wealth, rather than creating a ‘home’. A vicious cycle is enflamed. 

And the quality and safety of homes still looms large as we pass the fourth anniversary of the Grenfell Tower tragedy and the heartbreaking loss of 72 lives. Lessons have still to be learnt from this avoidable incident, and the lives of many are still deemed powerless in relation to the roofs over their heads. 

The plight of leaseholders in the Transport House block in Salford – now deemed unsafe due to the way it was constructed – is a sorry example. These leaseholders, many of whom were encouraged to purchase their homes through shared ownership offers at initially-attractive rates, are left with valueless homes they can’t sell. A bill from the social housing provider which built the properties (the freeholder), tots up to £101,500 per flat to remedy the defects. Transport House exemplifies how broken our housing models are, and the lack of accountability. Remember, these demands are from a so-called social housing provider, and there are many similar examples. 

But there is another way.

Quietly and patiently, in nooks and crannies across our country, a growing movement of people from truly diverse backgrounds has been shaping new approaches to housing. For some, the question of affordability is key; for others it’s about creating an intentional community of like-minded people with similar values and aspirations. Often projects are driven by the desire to provide more environmentally sustainable homes. And people want to create homes that sit better within their neighbourhoods, and have a greater impact on the ‘beauty’ of a place.

The range of projects out there is inspiring. Just look at: 

  • Forgebank in Lancaster, creating a cohousing community of people who want to live together in a more connected and sustainable way.  
  • Bunker Housing Co-op in Brighton, which is building its own affordable homes, because they need a roof over their heads. 

Quietly and patiently, in nooks and crannies across our country, a growing movement has been shaping new approaches to housing.

Such approaches are starting to mirror the diversity of housing choice in many parts of Europe, which have put people first for a long time now. In Germany, self-build and custom build housing is seen as a natural way of developing housing, and cooperatives of scale, like Mehr Als Wohnen (More Than Living) in Zurich, are part of the strategic landscape of housing policy in Switzerland. The community-led housing revolution is well and truly catching on here and the time is right, if we step up, to reset the dial around our housing futures and align with the ambitions of our European neighbours. 

Liverpool City Region has a proud history of community-led housing from the housing co-op revolution of the ‘70s and ’80s, through to the recent growth of new Community Land Trust (CLT) models led by Granby4Streets, Homebaked, New Ferry and Safe Regeneration. Through ambition and vision, these projects are working to ensure that investment in bricks and mortar has just as much impact on the social fabric of a place and the way communities live and grow as beautiful, happy and healthy neighbourhoods. 

But what all these projects have in common is the immense struggle volunteers have had to endure to make their projects happen; often pushing against the will of local authorities, policy makers and, most importantly, funding regimes. 2021 is the moment this needs to change.

Homebaked CLT is a perfect example of a community striving to be in control of its own, so called, ‘regeneration’ needs and to create deep-rooted and radical change. The Homebaked CLT concept is simple: 

1. To own the buildings in the neighbourhood high street, and maintain their community ownership in perpetuity 

2. To refurbish them and offer affordable, beautiful and environmentally sustainable buildings for rent – both as homes and for community businesses 

3. To support community wealth building approaches that enable local people, community businesses and the neighbourhood to thrive by keeping rents low and more money in people’s pockets 

It’s that simple.

Since its inception, Homebaked CLT has successfully supported the set-up of Homebaked Cooperative Bakery, the first tenant of the CLT and now a hugely successful independent community-led business. The CLT has also refurbished the flat above the bakery, the first ‘home’ in ‘Homebaked’ and is working hard to deliver the refurbishment of the empty terrace houses attached to the bakery into eight new homes and three more commercial spaces. 

 

The ambition for ‘The Terrace’ is high, with innovative environmental standards proposed to retrofit these properties and create a landmark vision for a new Anfield – right opposite Liverpool Football ground. But the struggle comes when funding regimes, determined very much by local land values, can only result in a lesser quality of development that won’t inspire longer term neighbourhood renewal. 

 

Places like Anfield need increased investment to enable them to build back better, with ambition and pride and passion. Funding rules and spreadsheet formulas need to be ripped up and reconfigured to let communities deliver their own ambitious futures and spark the longer term change that people are up for. Our policy makers and elected leaders need to step up. Our places that are left behind demand you do this. 

Funding rules and spreadsheet formulas need to be ripped up and reconfigured to let communities deliver their own ambitious futures and spark the longer term change that people are up for.

The current government is supportive of community-led housing and has introduced planning guidance and capital and revenue funding to encourage the growth of trailblazing projects across the country. Help to Build funding, the Community Housing Fund, the emerging Office of Place and the report being delivered by Richard Bacon MP, around accelerating self and custom-build housing, is welcome. We now need our local policy makers, our combined authority and its six constituent authorities to step up and match this commitment here in our region, to continue this ground-up revolution. 

Breaking Ground, the recently established community-led housing hub for Liverpool City Region, has launched a ten-point charter to secure the future of community-led housing in our region. We need to build a transparent process of enabling for community-led housing schemes, and help the current pipeline of some 31 projects and 550 homes deliver places for people to live. 

Breaking Ground also calls for our region to support Make the Shift, the global movement to secure the human right to housing. We believe housing should not be seen as a commodity, but should a basic human right. We see housing as a vehicle for equality, dignity and inclusive community, with government and local authorities made accountable for implementing the right to housing alongside a legal obligation to regulate financial actors who undermine this right. Cities like Bristol and London are looking at what’s happening in Barcelona and Berlin, where policymakers are pushing back against private finance, and the step change feels possible. We can do this here, too. 

Paul Kelly FRSA is a director of Breaking Ground, Liverpool City Region’s community-led housing hub. He’s also a trustee of the National Community Land Trust Network, and board member at Chrysalis Arts and Step Up MCR.

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