Report launch: Foundations for Community-Led Housing

Over the past decade, community-led housing (CLH) has risen from relative obscurity to gain attention and support from local and national government, local communities and the built environment community. There are now more than 80 groups in London working on CLH schemes – but there are still challenges facing groups trying to turn their vision into a reality.

Following an eight-month action learning programme involving 6 events and 250+ participants, Future of London launched its Foundations for Community-led Housing report on 3 December. This post provides a summary of the launch event, including key points from speakers, panel discussion and Q&A.

Nicola Mathers, Future of London’s Chief Executive, explained that FoL first became aware of the increasing interest in community-led housing through work on housing older Londoners and housing delivery models in 2017 and 2018. Although the initial goals for the Foundations for Community-Led Housing programme were to explore how CLH could support and boost boroughs’ housing delivery, the programme engaged with debates around the role of citizens in development and what people want – and need – from the homes of the future.

Mayor Rokhsana Fiaz: local authorities need to recalibrate their position towards social justice.

“Bring people in”: driving culture change in LB Newham

Keynote speaker, Rokhsana Fiaz, Mayor of Newham, explained how she’s been challenging the orthodoxy around housing delivery and provision – by building frameworks for co-production and putting people at the heart of the process.

Drawing on her experiences of two regeneration projects in LB Newham, Rokhsana argued that local authorities need to recalibrate their position towards social justice, by fully engaging with residents, acknowledging reasons for mistrust and doing away with the top down, ‘we know best’ mentality’ that has dominated council decision-making for too long.

While she acknowledged that co-production with communities can be challenging, she tells her officers that they need to learn to live with the messiness: “The only way we can address critical issues like the housing crisis and the climate emergency is by bring people in and working together.”

Project findings

FoL’s Research and Projects Manager, Charli Bristow, set out what community-led housing is, what it offers London and outlined the innovative approaches employed by the local authorities, groups and development partners collaborating to deliver CLH in the capital.

Using examples to evidence both the value of CLH and practical recommendations for delivering it, Charli highlighted partnerships including OWCH and Pollard Thomas Edwards; Leathermarket CBS, LB Southwark and igloo Community Builders; and RUSS and LB Lewisham.

She praised systemic approaches for delivering CLH emerging in LBs Croydon and Tower Hamlets, both bringing forward a consistent programme of opportunities on small sites. Similarly, London CLT have a growing pipeline of affordable homes on sites across the capital, learning from each success and building track record.

LB Tower Hamlets ran workshops to boost engagement with their affordable self-build programme.

Picking up on a point made by the Mayor of Newham, Charli asked: “What could be achieved in the built environment sector if all practitioners acted as ‘housing and social justice activists’?”

To deliver more CLH in London, she recommended:

  • Local authorities, housing associations and developers need to be clear about their social value priorities, and groups should clearly articulate how their scheme can help meet them.
  • For groups, authorities and partners it’s important to make use of the technical support and funding available now: there is unprecedented capacity and infrastructure to support all involved.
  • The process of developing CLH is relatively new to everyone: learn from what has and hasn’t worked to date and think about what you – as an organisation or individual – can share or pass on!

Community-led housing in London: a snapshot

Five panellists were invited to reflect on their involvement with CLH. Juliet Can, Director of Stour Space and a board member of London Community Land Trust, described how she came to be a resident of St Clements, a mixed-use redevelopment scheme in East London that provided 23 community land trust homes (see report for case study).

Panellists from left to right: Stephen Hill, C20 Futureplanners; Juliet Can, Stour Space & London CLT; Chris Brown, igloo; Neal Hunt, Poplar HARCA; Zohra Chiheb, LB Croydon.

“St Clements is an example of best practice in the CLH sector,” says Juliet. “It’s not just about providing homes; it’s about social justice, wellbeing and transforming the wider neighbourhood.” Being able to buy a CLT home in St Clements changed her life; it meant Juliet could continue living close to her work, friends and family. Having lived in East London for 30 years, she’d experienced first-hand the huge rent increases in the private rented sector and said goodbye to many friends who had been priced out of the capital. Her role as a resident board member at St Clements is to ensure that the scheme remains grassroots.

Neal Hunt, Director of Development at Poplar HARCA, explained how the housing association is approaching regeneration in a different way. His team works with residents of the Teviot Estate to apply many of the principles underpinning CLH to the regeneration of the estate. They are planning to appoint a development partner next year and the scheme will involve some CLH. Although Neal is convinced of the commercial benefits of CLH for large developers, he’s aware that many, driven by profit and share prices, won’t want to get involved.

LB Croydon are bringing forward a consistent pipeline of opportunities for CLH.

In 2019, as part of its commitment to working with residents on affordable housing, LB Croydon promised to make five council-owned sites available for CLH bids. Zohra Chiheb, Regeneration Manager, explained that supporting CLH, and getting residents involved, had made it easier for the council to put forward plans for opt-in densification and unlocking difficult sites – proposals that might otherwise have been unpopular with local communities.

“It’s difficult for institutions like local authorities to change and genuinely listen to people – but it’s so important that the council builds trust with residents,” says Zohra. Like Rohksana, she acknowledged that it’s not always easy; she’s had difficult conversations with residents about issues such as car parking, and concerns that regeneration will result in two-tier estates that mean some residents are ‘left behind’.

Stephen Hill, Director of C20 Futureplanners, believes that the CLH sector is growing in London because communities across the capital want more homes to be built and, with more and people experiencing loneliness, CLH is about building community and providing ‘sociable’ housing. In an increasingly financialised housing market that offers people very few choices, CLH offers something different and is encouraging people to think about housing provision in more innovative ways.

Reflecting on his role in the Marklake Court scheme, Chris Brown, Executive Chair of igloo Regeneration, is well aware of the value of ‘bringing people in’, to borrow Rohksana’s phrase. Working in partnership with Leathermarket Joint Management Board (JMB), the largest tenant management organisation in Southwark, igloo Community Builders knocked on every single door on the estates to find out what people’s housing needs were. Residents were then invited able to co-design the development, which meant that what was built met their needs. Elderly residents, for example, were able to downsize into much more accessible homes. “Marklake Court is an example of building homes for local people – by local people,” says Chris.

Residents across London seek greater control over their environment, courtesy Leathermarket CBS.

What does the CLH sector need to grow?

A lively discussion followed with pertinent and interesting questions from the floor. While there is evidence that CLH produces more homes, more quickly than traditional development, and brings with it numerous social benefits such as reducing isolation, much of the discussion was around the need to better educate people about the short- and long-term benefits of CLH. Panellists and attendees also expressed dismay at developers co-opting the terms ‘co-housing’ and ‘co-living’ for large-scale commercial schemes.

When asked how national government could better support CLH, panellists called for more consistent policies, more funding and subsidy, and – in an ideal world – a housing minister of cabinet rank that stays in the job for at least five years. “Knowing what communities want will give the government a better idea of what policies might work at a local level,” says Stephen Hill. “Housing needs vary so dramatically across the country that one-size-fits-all national policies aren’t working.”

The report is available for download here.