The government has been urged to turn over empty Ministry of Defence property to military veterans so they can build their own co-operative communities.
Labour/Co-op MP Gareth Thomas said the idea would offer a lifeline to the estimated 16,000 ex-military personnel who are homeless or are in prison. There are nearly 50 Ministry of Defence buildings standing empty, and he wants ministers to hand them over to veterans for housing.
In the United States, military charities have set up housing co-ops to help veterans into good housing, at low rents. One such charity is Soldier On, whose latest project used government land to build affordable housing for 51 homeless veterans. These homes form a housing co-operative in which the veterans take the key decisions about their community’s future – from rent levels through to community events and who gets to move in.
In the UK, there have been a handful of similar projects in the past. After World War I a public meeting at Lancaster Town Hall forged the creation of a memorial village that could house and employ local men and their families who had come home from the war. The Westfield War Memorial Village survives today, over a century later and is a unique, small community that offers a range of quality, affordable, rental accommodation to the armed forces community, both veterans and those serving.
Mr Thomas said: “It is a national scandal that the government has allowed so many veterans to be homeless. The MoD should hand over empty land for veterans housing co-operatives which can be used to get British heroes off the streets, to get them the help they need and re-integrate into society. to use and support homeless ex-soldiers to get the help they need to reintegrate into society.
“The government needs to learn from the lessons of the past here and from the United States, and offer veterans the chance to run their own housing in their own communities themselves.
“Veterans’ housing co-operatives are not a radical idea, but they do require ministers to show a bit of imagination and determination to end this homelessness scandal.”