We are in the midst of a housing crisis. The housing market and existing policies have failed to meet the housing needs of local communities. We need new approaches that involve community resources and commitment as part of the solution.
Many of us involved in tackling this critical issue have spent many a long hour writing, studying, reading worth housing policy reports. The focus of our Housing Commission is not to produce yet another report; rather, it is will have a relentlessly practical focus: how to encourage and enable local authorities to support co-operative and community-led solutions to the housing crisis.
The symptoms of failure vary across the UK. There are different housing markets: north and south; urban and rural; areas of high and low demand. Different solutions are required for different markets. Our commission therefore has a UK-wide scope and will seek contributions that provide perspective from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as across England.
Our Housing Commissioners are from a range of backgrounds: councils, policy experts, organisations devoted to supporting community-led groups, and community-led organisations themselves.
We have held two excellent and well-attended evidence sessions in Rochdale and last week in Croydon to help us capture a wide range of good practice. These sessions have made it clear why hard-pressed councils should support community-led housing solutions. Community-led schemes can:
- Develop small sites/return properties to use that larger organisations find uneconomic or problematic
- Bring in funding (like borrowing against their assets, bond issues and crowd funding), labour, drive and energy to the project
- Provide a way of managing local concerns over new residential development
- Create new homes and communities that people genuinely want to live in
- Allow denser development, because of their approach to shared and communal space
- Strengthen communities which benefit from lower levels of anti-social behaviour and high levels of service satisfaction
- Create communities that facilitate mutual support for vulnerable people enabling them to remain independent (and reduce the burden on the social care budget)
- Guarantee that new homes are affordable in perpetuity.
Initial ideas for action have emerged from our evidence sessions:
- Products of the Commission could include a knowledge bank website (with case studies to suit different housing markets), a technical toolkit and templates
- Recommended practice for local authorities includes:
- Political and chief officer commitment and targets essential to drive community-led housing
- Area support networks could be developed to link officers to pioneer councils
- A charter or pledge for local authorities should be developed setting out guiding principles
- Plans should include encouraging councils to deliver a test site of community-led housing
- Policy recommendations should include urging councils to have community-led housing element in their housing strategy
In December 2016 we will set up a website for our Commission with a blog to debate and exchange ideas. We are working with HACT to develop a technical toolkit to support local authority officers. We are developing a ‘pledge’ to encourage local authorities to support community-led housing. Our call for evidence to members of the Co-operative Councils’ Innovation Network and other stakeholders will seek to identify good practice and identify the basis for establishing regional support networks to spread expertise among local authorities to encourage and enable them to engage communities as partners in developing solutions to the housing crisis.
Cllr Tony Newman
Leader – Croydon Council