Can housing co-ops help communities affected by deindustrialisation and help them take back control? At its annual conference in Kenilworth, the Confederation of Co-operative Housing looked at the contribution of housing co-ops to giving a sense of ownership and creating cohesion within communities across the UK.
CCH head of policy Nic Bliss argued that the existing co-op housing sector promoted the idea of solidarity and belonging to something bigger than the individual self. “We can’t prove these things to people we just go out and do it, not measuring it,” he said.
Jane Everton, deputy director of the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, talked about the government’s forthcoming green paper on social housing, following consultation with a range of stakeholders. She said the green paper will focus on building the right homes in the right places faster as well as consulting tenants regarding social housing, fees and measures against landlords.
Ms Everton said nearly half of households in social housing have someone suffering from a long-term illness or with disabilities. Social housing tenants also tend to be lone parents (21%) and people on low incomes (72%). Yet, in spite of housing tenants who are vulnerable, 6% of social homes have a major safety hazard in them, such as exposed wiring, overloaded electricity sockets, dangerous boilers, leaking roofs, vermin infestations or inadequate security.
The government’s engagement with social housing stakeholders revealed tenants were concerned about issues such as tenant rights and responsibilities, welfare reform and Universal credit, tenant engagement, quality of homes, organisation leadership and culture, loneliness, overcrowding, safety and governance.
Speaking on behalf of tenants, Leslie Channon, research and policy officer at Soha Housing and chair of A Voice for Tenants steering group, said that a lot of the community spirit of social housing had been lost with the bigger housing associations.
“Some housing organisations think that by going digital they don’t have to talk to tenants anymore,” she said, adding that tenants needed to have a seat at the table when the future of social housing was discussed.
Chris Handy, chief executive of Accord Group, thinks the green paper is an opportunity for housing co-ops to shout louder about the sector, involving other actors like the National Housing Federation and encouraging more housing associations to support co-operative and community housing.
There are 450 housing co-ops and 250 tenant-management organisations across the UK. Accord Group provides around 1,400 co-operative homes and support services to 14 housing co-operatives. The Group includes Birmingham Co-operative Housing Services and Redditch Co-operative Homes. BCHS has developed over 50 housing co-ops and community controlled housing projects while RCH manages nearly 700 properties in Redditch.
In 2011 Accord became the first housing association in the UK to manufacture low-cost, energy efficient timber homes. The LoCal Homes project is producing 200 homes per year with the aim to expand to 1,000 homes per year from this summer. Sold to housing associations and councils, the homes are designed to provide flexible solutions tailored to individual needs, which makes them suitable for vulnerable people with complex needs.
Mr Handy said the green paper should include innovative thought on social and affordable rents, tenure options, safety, involvement opportunities in various ways to suit different lifestyles and a commitment to fund affordable housing.
Sharon Taylor, chair of the Co-operative Councils Innovation Network (CCIN) and leader of Stevenage Council, talked about the results of a report by the Housing Commission on Community-Led Housing. Set up by the CCIN, the report highlights good practice, enabling councils to work with communities to generate more affordable housing and make best use of government funding for community-led housing.
Stevenage was featured in the report for its co-operative neighbourhood planning model to increase community engagement in regeneration proposals.
Following discussions with over 700 residents, the council redeveloped the neighbourhood centre, adding two new shops and redeveloping the community centre at a new site in the park as requested by the residents.
This relocation freed up more land for the new council homes. The extra 12 flats increased the size of the scheme to 30 homes and made it financially viable through realising an additional £2.2m capitalised rental income. The new community centre sits alongside a children’s park designed and developed by local children and a public skate park designed by local young people who now feel a strong sense of ownership of the skate park. Stevenage currently has 8,000 social homes and a population of 87,000.
“There isn’t single challenge facing this country to which there isn’t a co-op solution,” said Cllr Taylor.