Public community

Tom Chance: Public-community partnerships can deliver better housing

New research shows most councils have actively supported community-led housing, writes the chief executive of the Community Land Trust Network.

You may think that community-led housing is an interesting niche, marginal to council housing strategy.

Tom Chance, CEO of the Community Land Trust Network

But our new research using Freedom of Information requests found that two in three councils have actively supported community-led housing in recent years in England and Wales. We count support as including one or more of the following: asset transfers, grants, loans, dedicated staff, or housing and accommodation policies.

We counted 946 grants or loans and 240 assignments since 2010 from the 332 FOI responses.

Strategic engagement

These are often examples of support on a case-by-case basis, outside of a strategic policy framework: a grant to a community land trust using Section 106 commuted monies to make affordable housing on a difficult site, or land sold to a housing cooperative for the self-construction of affordable housing.

But we counted 69 councils that seem to have high support for community-led housing, consistently supporting projects.

Some of them also engage in the sector in a strategic way.

Trust…is established to be entrepreneurial in promoting the social, economic and environmental well-being of the community

For example, Bristol City Council has established a framework for handing over dozens of sites to community groups, assessing offers to maximize social and financial value. It works with and funds the Facilitation Center for the West of England Region to ensure that diverse communities are supported to put forward strong proposals and to ensure they are delivered.

East Cambridgeshire DC provides small grants, technical assistance and groundbreaking planning policy to help communities build mixed housing on the outskirts of settlements to meet local needs.

One of the projects is a garden village of 500 houses, with a community land trust as the stewardship vehicle, but engaged from the early stages of general planning and serving on the project’s board of directors. The trust will not just collect rents and mow the grass – it is established to be entrepreneurial in promoting the social, economic and environmental well-being of the community.

Community power in action

Others are exploring how their housing corporations and joint ventures can partner with community organizations to provide more housing. For example, creating social tenants as a co-op to manage their own homes, or partnering with a community land trust to build sites that will be transferred to the trust when completed. Often they explore these options in conversation with their local hub of facilitators.

We have seen over 40 housing associations enter into partnerships with community land trusts, cohousing communities and housing co-operatives.

It is communal power in action, or the great society, or double devolution. Take out your fashionable bingo card.

I see it simply as a partnership – councils treating communities as partners in order to achieve something neither party could do alone.

Public-private partnerships are well established and understood, with joint ventures commonly used to deliver ambitious housing and regeneration programs that councils lack the expertise and capital to deliver on their own. But public-community partnerships in these areas are rarer.

We have seen over 40 housing associations enter into partnerships with community land trusts, cohousing communities and housing co-operatives. There are some interesting innovations between housing associations and the community also involving councils, such as Housing 21 which is testing the principles of co-housing in social housing for older communities in Bame on sites provided by Birmingham City Council.

Huge opportunities

Much of this innovation has been supported by the government’s Community Housing Fund since 2016, which provides revenue funding to help groups secure sites and building permits, after which they can access more traditional funding . We are pushing for this stop-start fund to be reopened during the current three-year spending cycle, and we have appreciated the support of many MPs and councils who value its impact.

There are huge opportunities for these partnerships to address a range of challenges

Increasingly, councils and combined authorities are integrating community-led approaches into strategies and policies.

There are huge opportunities for these partnerships to address a range of challenges, each specific to the local context of your authority.

These may include: diversifying the number of registered providers and supporting households or small Section 106 sites that no longer care about large merged registered providers; offer a high quality management alternative to irresponsible management companies; increase public support for new housing, especially affordable housing; improve standards in areas devastated by absentee private landowners; and – as recent government-commissioned research has revealed – increasing social cohesion and reducing loneliness through the provision of accommodation.

Independent research also suggests that these projects are on average no slower than those offered by housing associations or private developers, and tend to achieve higher environmental standards.

Visit the Community Led Homes website for more information and to contact your local hub

Tom Chance, Managing Director, Community Land Trust Network