The housing sector faced uncertainty in 2015 as George Osborne announced new rules on social rents and a Right to Buy policy for housing association tenants. But there was growth in student housing co-ops and the sector expanded in Wales – and, on an international level, the movement came together to help Haiti’s earthquake victims.
For housing co-operatives in the UK the year was a challenging one, with co-operative housing organisations worrying that the Right to Buy provisions for housing association tenants could affect community-led housing initiatives.
At its annual conference in Cardiff, the Confederation of Co-operative Housing (CCH) examined the potential threat to the sector.
In 2013, the Coalition government issued guidance for registered providers to increase rents by the Consumer Price Index, which measures inflation, plus 1% every year until 2023.
But following this year’s election, Chancellor George Osborne announced in his July budget that registered providers, including housing co-operatives, would have to reduce rents by 1% every year for the next four years.
At the same time, registered providers, including co-operatives, will have to increase rent for social tenants earning more than £30,000 in the UK or £40,000 in London, resetting it to levels approaching the market rate. The effect of this on housing co-operatives will depend on their tenants’ income distribution.
Another potential challenge comes from the Right to Buy legislation. Since a draft of the legislation is not yet available, it is unclear whether housing co-operatives will be subject to the Right to Buy.
Co-operatives are also submitting evidence to the House of Commons public bill committee on the Housing and Planning Bill 2015-2016, arguing that a compulsory “pay to stay” scheme would have a negative impact on the future of housing co-ops. More on this here.
Meanwhile housing co-operatives have continued to grow in Wales, where the government has supported the development of a variety of co-operative housing models.
With funding from the Welsh government, the Wales Co-operative Centre provides support to communities, local authorities and housing associations to develop co-operative housing schemes.
Twenty-five co-operative housing schemes were developed from 2012 with funding from the Welsh government. Wales’ largest housing co-op was recently launched. Merthyr Valleys Homes is now the second housing association in the UK, owned by tenants and employees who will control 4,300 council homes. Full report on this here.
Student housing co-operatives have also had a good year with the opening of Sheffield Student Housing Co-operative. The project received financial support from the Phone Co-op, who bought a property in the Crookes area of the city. It will be leased on a long-term basis to the new Sheffield Student Housing Cooperative, enabling them to get started, housing five students.
A report published by Acorn Co-operative Support looked at the Feasibility of a National Body of Student Housing Co-operatives that would tackle the key problems facing the creation of new housing co-operatives. The proposed body would be formed as a secondary co-operative and it would need £20,000 of initial seed funding to cover start-up costs.
Internationally the global co-operative movement came together to support the reconstruction efforts in Haiti. The earthquake has left over two million people homeless. Under the guidance of the International Co-operative Alliance a group of families from Petit Fond (Lascahobas) have now set up the country’s first self-help housing co-operative.
As a direct result of the international co-operative action, 23 families received the keys to their properties within the housing co-operative. £50,000 was donated by UK co-operatives towards the project.
JUN: Students for Co-operation national meet-up. Hosted by the Sheffield Student Housing Co-operative, the event included workshops and training, socials, group discussions as well as a first meeting for establishing a national body for financing student housing co-operatives.
JUL: Confederation of Co-operative Housing annual conference in Cardiff. The event was an opportunity for co-operative housing members to discuss the sector’s success in Wales as well as the potential threats from welfare reforms and the Right to Buy scheme. Full reports are available online.
Highs and Lows
Network co-ordinator, Students for Cooperation:
The definite highlight of this year has been the opening of Sheffield Student Housing Co-operative, achieved in collaboration with the Phone Co-op. Our student housing co-ops in Edinburgh and Birmingham entered their second year and are going strong. Student co-ops are actively engaging thousands of students and non-students in the co-operative model and ideals.
What would you like to see next year (and how do we get there)?
We have a number of active groups of students across the UK keen to establish their own housing co-operatives, however our plans to establish a national financing body for student housing co-operatives are taking longer than we’d hoped due to a lack of initial grant funding / seed capital.
The long term viability, success and growth of student housing co-operatives is critically dependent on our ability to secure investment to move to the stage where we are purchasing properties, as opposed to our current set-up of leasing from other co-ops or housing associations. So far we have put together a significant feasibility study with the help of East of England Co-operative and Acorn Co-op Support, but the next step requires at least £10,000 in grant funding to get us to the point where we can begin securing share capital and purchasing properties.
Nicholas Gazzard, president, and Julie LaPalme, programme director
Co-operative Housing International
We gained new members this year from Malaysia, Uruguay and the United States and we welcomed new members to the CHI board of directors from Ireland, the UK and Malaysia.
This summer, the CHI board had the pleasure of meeting colleagues at ABZ in Zurich, Switzerland and visiting the innovative and energy-efficient co-operative housing community in the Hunziker area. ABZ is the largest housing co-operative in Switzerland with 60 housing communities in and around Zurich and more than 10,000 residents.
We developed a first strategic plan for CHI and aligned our strategic and action plans to the Blueprint for a Co-operative Decade. This included the development of a Blueprint Interpretation for Co-operative Housing.”
Some housing sectors within the Alliance continue to struggle to secure enabling legal frameworks for co-operative housing development and sustainability in both developed and developing countries. There is a lack of understanding in different global regions of the role co-op housing can play in addressing shelter challenges and relieving housing poverty. Access to development capital for co-op housing, especially affordable co-op housing, is inconsistent and in many regions scarce or non-existent.
What would you like to see next year (and how do we get there)?
Co-operative Housing International sees growth in global membership as key to strengthening the reach and understanding of co-operative housing solutions.
We want to continue to develop awareness of housing co-ops as a viable solution to affordable housing and community building.
We hope to ally ourselves more strongly with other values-based housing movements, and collaborate more closely with other business sectors within the Alliance. We want to continue developing our communications capacity through the CHI website and social media.
In this article
- Acorn Co-operative
- British co-operative movement
- George Osborne
- House of Commons
- Housing association
- Housing cooperative
- International Co-operative Alliance
- Julie LaPalme
- merthyr valleys housing
- Mike Shaw
- Nicholas Gazzard
- Petit Fond (Lascahobas)
- right to buy
- The Co-operative Food
- The Phone Co-op
- Wales Co-operative Centre
- Welsh government
- United Kingdom
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