A house is not a home without the community – the benefits of Community Led Housing

At the beginning of 2020 Radian began developing its new corporate strategy. I also came to the end of my time as team leader for Southmead Development Trust and planned to go travelling. However, like many other people, I instead find myself sat in front of a screen, reflecting on the work I’ve been involved in over the last few years and on the social housing sector in general.

 

What makes a home?

Our current situation highlights the importance of having a home where you can take refuge and be safe. But what makes a home? Is it the four walls, roof and strong foundations, or is it a feeling? A feeling of being safe, empowered, and part of a community full of opportunities for people to thrive and reach their full potential? All of this makes up a home. Of course, it also needs to be in reach of everyone; it needs to be affordable.

Our government has made a welcome commitment to deliver 300,000 much-needed houses each year, but we have to face up to the fact that, despite our best intentions, the majority of these homes will be beyond the reach of most people and won’t normally include social value.

And even when affordable homes are built there’s often no involvement with, or understanding of, the community and its needs to make sure the homes provide long-term value and sustainability.

 

Community Led Housing

As a social housing sector, we have a duty to bridge this gap. This means turning the top-down approach on its head and allowing communities to take the lead on housing developments. There are plenty of ways to do this but I think Community Led Housing (CLH) is the biggest contender.

CLH has seen a steady rise in use over the last ten years, delivering mostly small but highly impactful projects.

CLH has in the past been viewed as expensive in resources, complex, inefficient for delivering on-scale whilst offering great return on investment. I’m not denying any of these issues, but it’s not all about the numbers. CLH is not the solution to solving the housing crisis, but it is the solution to delivering sustainable communities and homes of value.

CLH galvanises communities. It brings together people who take responsibility for their local housing, meeting long-term affordability needs for local people, using the resources and skills that already exist in the community.

During my time as Chair at Yarlington Housing Group I saw the impact CLH has on communities. In Lyme Regis Dorset a typical three-bed home goes for £500,000, that’s 25 times the average annual income. With a waiting list of over 100 people, in 2018 a group of local people set up a Community Land Trust and worked with Yarlington to deliver 15 affordable homes to help keep local people local.

 

Sustainability 

In terms of sustainability, CLH enables communities to have assets that provide a long-term income to invest back into their community to tackle all sorts of issues such as loneliness, lack of amenities, provision for children and young people or opportunities for older people to cohabitate or downsize. These are all things a community needs to survive; it’s not just about housing, it’s about sustainable homes and empowered communities.

As CEO of Bristol Community Land Trust (BCLT) I’ve witnessed first-hand how communities can be empowered. In 2016 BCLT completed 12 affordable homes on Fishponds Road. Each resident had to be a member of the BCLT and help self-finish their homes, not only sharing and developing skills but to get to know each other and literally build their community together.

By regenerating existing land, CLH can develop on sites that are hard for mainstream housing providers to develop. As you may well be aware, regeneration is the perennial nut that all housing providers strive to crack, with results largely undermined by the lack of community engagement and ownership. This is where CLH is different because it’s the community that delivers. CLH can be the catalyst to save an isolated village or an impoverished urban ward.

CLH schemes are typically smaller but that doesn’t have to be the case. Most recently, I’ve been involved with the Southmead Development Trust, which will not only see urban regeneration of the center of Southmead in North Bristol, but it will also be the UK’s biggest community-led development. Southmead has one of the lowest life expectancies in Bristol and is within the top 10% of the most deprived wards in the UK. This scheme will see the development of 120 affordable homes and delivery of much-needed community and commercial space.

 

We don’t need to reinvent the wheel for each CLH scheme but we can and should support the delivery of more. Not every housing association has to work with CLH but it could work with or invest in its local enabler hub and build on the remit these hubs have. This will help create a central resource that increases access to and effectiveness of CLH schemes.

I’m not saying CLH is the panacea to the housing crisis but when housing associations consider their social purpose, we deliver homes and help create communities, not houses. It’s time that we took control of what homes mean and start to take CLH seriously.

 

– Lindy Morgan, Radian Group, Chair of the Board