The way ahead: mainstreaming community-led housing in London

Community-led housing (CLH) is gaining traction in the capital, with growing appetite among local authorities and communities alike.

On 18 February at Legal and General, Future of London’s new programme, Foundations for Community-Led Housing, launched to a packed house, evidencing project initiator and event chair Stephen Hill’s observation that “this is the first time in about a generation there’s been so much interest in the citizen being an active agent in their own housing choice”.

Stephen suggested an action learning approach throughout the programme will help tackle real challenges while showcasing the potential of CLH as a way to achieve integrated social value outcomes.

Local authorities as enablers

Drawing on both her Churchill Fellowship research and experiences as Director of CLH and self-build consultancy Ecomotive, Anna Hope set out three take-home messages from her keynote address:

  1. CLH is about more than housing: it’s a route of delivery for integrated social value across a range of key areas, and in that there is a crucial role for public-sector bodies to play.
  2. The best examples of CLH emerge where local authorities understand and actively embrace the role of communities as key partners.
  3. Relationships between all parties depend on trust. Trust is founded on clear expectations, mutual respect and development of a clear framework within which everyone participates.

The housing sector is facing unprecedented challenges, in terms of demand, climate emergency, and increasing pressure from issues such as social isolation and an ageing population.

For all of these challenges, Anna set out and evidenced the ways CLH can provide solutions. Watch the video below!

NB: Videos of all speakers are available via our YouTube channel and subtitles are forthcoming.

Spend the money!

Nigel Kersey, Programme Manager of the Community Housing Fund at Ministry for Homes, Communities and Local Government, outlined central government’s support for CLH, and the rationale for the Community Housing Fund: increased housing supply, affordability, and a sustainable CLH sector in England.

The Community Housing Fund has been made available to deliver more homes, especially in areas other sectors can’t reach. Community groups will develop small sites and complex sites, and refurbish buildings that traditional parties might overlook. Resident support for CLH can deliver higher densities.

The £38 million London component of the fund, delivered by the GLA, will be used for capital and revenue grant. The range of possible uses include programmes of support and training for and by major stakeholders.

Capacity-building is key for the Fund to achieve its objective of delivering lasting change, which sees the sector support infrastructure and start to move away from grant-funding and towards a permanent, self-financing business model. This stability goes hand-in-hand with ambitions for the sector to “mainstream”, becoming a realistic option for normal people.

For now, the priority is to spend the money on good projects.  If unspent, it will go away.

London context

CLH in London is doing well, with built examples of almost every type of CLH and new ideas emerging from communities all the time. Building on the momentum, Lev Kerimol, Director of Community-Led Housing London, would like to see regular programmes of opportunity established for CLH.

This could be through sites being made available, or by including CLH as part of larger developments. A recent report from Co-operative Councils Innovation Network outlines the spectrum of approaches being explored nationally.  The Hub is supporting authorities, housing associations and even developers to develop community-led initiatives by bringing actors and projects together.

For boroughs with CLH ambitions but scant resources, the Hub has a vital role in building capacity, and providing practical supporting staff, who will work within borough teams advising on, initiating, and getting community-led housing projects over the line.

In the boroughs

Jennifer Daothong, Assistant Director of Housing Strategy at LB Waltham Forest (LBWF) spoke about the challenge of finding a place for CLH within wider strategic priorities. Her job is dominated by three numbers:

  • LBWF need to build 1800 homes per year; the most built in a year to date is 960.
  • 8000 people are on the borough’s housing waiting list.
  • At any one time, 2000 people are living in temporary accommodation.

This is the context for thinking about the way LAs engage with CLH groups, and the challenges around capacity, resourcing and scale. To realise the benefits of CLH, it’s crucial for boroughs to build processes that meet groups’ needs within the wider strategic context.

LBWF are working with the Hub to build the capacity of groups in the borough. Reflecting on work to date, Jennifer observed:

“We’re not quite at the stage of Germany where you’ve got groups who know what they want and are competing in a local process. We’re actually trying to do both sides of this: we’re trying to match-make by creating opportunities and we’re trying to bring forward groups that are capable of taking on those opportunities. It’s not a perfect process yet.”

For community-led housing to take hold in the context of scarce land and stretched resources, a few elements are vital:

  • Boroughs must articulate what they want from groups and take a structured rather than ad hoc approach to providing opportunities.
  • CLH needs to move away from reliance on gifted public land.
  • The non-financial return on investment must be clearly articulated. The social value of schemes is broadly understood, but methods for evaluating societal benefits against a land receipt are far from perfect.

Discussion

The ensuing discussion covered a range of important areas. Highlights are provided below and many of these topics will be picked up in coming sessions:

  • ‘Less than best consideration’ issues can be complicated and are sometimes misunderstood. The Cooperative Council’s recent report on Community Led Housing has useful guidance. This can be read with the complementary HACT Social Value toolkit, which offers practical tools and guidance for both housing providers and contractors seeking to generate social value through development and procurement.
  • Who is CLH for? In London particularly, the range of schemes to date support a broad spectrum of residents from a range of income brackets, tenures and demographics.
  • Many of the benefits of CLH – greater responsiveness to resident’s needs, increased civic participation, community influence over homes and neighbourhoods – are ambitions outlined in the Social Housing Green Paper and issues the wider sector is working to address.
  • Speakers were unanimous in their support for the idea that one of CLH’s greatest virtues is its ability to raise standards in terms of the points above, but also in areas such as design quality, affordability and environmental performance.
  • The question was raised – do communities actually want the responsibility of developing their own housing? Should they not be able to rely on traditional providers to ensure quality?
  • Although it’s not going to be for everyone, when people are made aware of the opportunities in a way that they can understand and connect with, experience shows there is significant interest.
  • Where communities do choose to embrace CLH and bring forward schemes, their achievements put pressure on the wider sector and raise the bar.

Next steps

We’re keen to develop the project with input from people working in this area and connect with organisations involved in delivering community-led housing schemes throughout London. If you have experience to share, please contact Charli Bristow.

Upcoming events

  • Monday 25 March – Mini-conference: co-production
  • April and May – workshops: land and planning; finance – dates tbc
  • Monday 24 June – Applied learning surgery

To receive invitations to these events and stay up to date with the project, join our mailing list.

Thank you to our partners:

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