How to solve the UK’s housing crisis? A co-operative approach

Can co-operative housing help solve Britain’s housing crisis? And, if so, what can be done to encourage the development of more housing co-ops? These were some of the...

Can co-operative housing help solve Britain’s housing crisis? And, if so, what can be done to encourage the development of more housing co-ops? These were some of the questions raised at the annual conference of the Confederation of Co-operative Housing (CCH) at Loughborough University.

An official review of housing supply carried out in 2004 concluded that Britain needed to build 250,000 houses a year. Speaking at the conference, Claire McCarthy, general secretary of the Co-operative Party, outlined the Party’s plans to help tackle the housing crisis in the UK.

“Never has there been a need for a powerful co-operative intervention more than in Britain’s failing housing market today. The opportunity for secure tenure, preserving affordable housing stock in perpetuity and our unique offer – democratic ownership and control – are just some of the very tangible benefits that co-operative housing has to offer our communities. And when you add on the social benefits of mixed and sustainable communities – the case is truly compelling,” she said.

Claire McCarthy [photo: Andrew Wiard]
Claire McCarthy [photo: Andrew Wiard]
“But the fact is that co-operative housing in this country remains a tiny proportion of our housing stock – less than 1%. And as we all know, much smaller than in some other countries, particularly in Europe. If we are to be part of the solution to our nation’s housing crisis we must be restless to change this situation. And the Co-operative Party stands ready to do whatever it can to achieve this.”

Lessons for England: The success of co-operative housing in Wales

Ms McCarthy believes that progress is possible when there is “political will” and “practical support”. She gave the example of Wales, where the previous Labour government legislated to enable mutual housing associations to grant assured tenancies.

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“New build co-operative housing schemes have been completed which are not only providing affordable rents for local families but have also provided high quality apprenticeship opportunities and training for tenants in managing their homes within a co-operative structure. In addition, Merthyr Valley Homes has just become the largest housing mutual in Wales and only the second mutual housing association (the other is Rochdale Boroughwide Housing) to be owned by both residents and staff.  Recent developments, particularly in student housing co-ops, are also providing inspiration for what is possible.”

New report argues that co-ops are leading a housing revolution

She explained how over the last five years the Co-operative Party had been working to improve the legislative and regulatory environment for co-operative housing in England.

“In 2011, Jonathan Reynolds MP brought forward a private members bill to introduce a new form of co-operative housing tenure. In Britain we currently only recognise two forms of housing tenure – ownership and tenancy. This has been the case since feudal times. This bill tried to change this and create co-operative housing tenure, where people would have a right to live and occupy the property they live in by virtue of being a member of the co-operative who owns it. In 2013, Labour & Co-operative MP Gareth Thomas introduced the Housing Market Reform Bill which, among other provisions, sought to place a duty on the Homes and Communities Agency to promote co-operative housing and report regularly on progress.

Our housing market is failing a growing number of people and we can and must be part of the solution

“Most recently, our focus in parliament has been working with CCH and others to highlight concerns raised by the Housing and Planning Bill. As a result, government ministers have re-stated their commitment to co-operative housing and committed to examining the progress in Wales to see if lessons can be learned in England. This provides us a good opportunity for the future.”

The Party’s general secretary thinks that local government can also play a key role in promoting co-operative housing, particularly now that greater freedom and new powers are being handed down to new city regions. She argued there was an “opportunity to make the case that co-operative housing can and should be a bigger part of the mix”.

“So, we must be bold and ambitious. Challenging failing markets is what co-operation is all about. Our housing market is failing a growing number of people and we can and must be part of the solution,” she concluded.

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