Jumping for joy – why now is the time to be ambitious for community-led housing!

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Hopefully some of you may have read Catherine Harrington’s blog on the National Community Land Trust Network website? If not I’m sharing the part of it here that is very much a shared vision that we have been working on over the last eighteen months.

We now have a once in a lifetime opportunity to turn community-led housing into something anyone, wherever they are, can do. We can grow the number of Cohousing, Community Land Trusts, Co-operatives and community self-build and self-help groups from hundreds to thousands. To do that though we, and Government, have some important decisions to make.

Our new map for the sector

The £300m Community Housing Fund, which the National CLT network was instrumental in getting announced in the 2015 Spring budget, is the biggest investment in the sector for the last 40 years.

We’ve been making the case for the Fund to create a market for community-led housing and leave a long-term legacy that will create tens of thousands of community homes long beyond the lifetime of the Fund.

Over the last 18 months we have been working work with NCLTN, and then more recently with the Confederation of Cooperative Housing, Self-help housing and Locality, to lobby Government and co-design the Fund. This work has led to a new map to help us all scale up and out together – a vision for the infrastructure in our sector that will create this self-sustaining market for community-led housing.

So here is our map:

A network of local enabling organisations – being commonly termed ‘community led housing hubs’ – who provide that vital one to one support to groups, foster a supportive local policy and funding environment and broker delivery partnerships; these maybe new or an expansion of existing CLT umbrella’s or secondary co-ops to be able to support all forms of community led housing.

Revenue grants for CLH groups to pay for professional services to get your project through planning and on-site;

Capital grant funding to make your project viable, covering costs for affordable housing, land remediation etc; and potentially create a revolving land bank fund

A one-stop-shop for community-led housing – a single platform with all information, guidance and resources on community-led housing, accompanied by a phone line, and a single database of groups and projects so we can help ensure funders know how best to support and invest in the sector;

A training programme and quality mark for community-led housing advisers to ensure groups are receiving high quality advice and to equip more people with the skills and knowledge to support groups;

You’ve all helped us lobby the Government to make a decision on the Community Housing Fund and use it to invest in this map. More than 50 MPs and Peers lobbied the Government thanks to your amazing efforts.

The Minister for Housing and Planning, Alok Sharma MP, is now confirmed to open our National Community-led Housing Conference on 27th November. We’re hopeful for some news on the Fund and the Government’s commitment to the sector.

In the meantime, I’m pleased to say that Power to Change are already helping us kick-start this work.

But it’s not just about what Government and funders need to do. It’s also what we as national community-led housing bodies need to do. Enter can-do attitude!

We need to change

We know that the national organisations have historically and mainly unintentionally been part of the problem. We’re all too aware that the complexity in the sector – the myriad of websites on CLTs, cohousing, cooperatives, self-help housing and so on, the multiple toolkits and guidance and different funding pots – is what makes doing a community-led housing project much more difficult than it should be to be. It’s natural that things have developed in that way – people have a great idea and want to get on with developing it without the prospect of being slowed down if they have to work with others. But it’s gone too far and we now need to make a concerted effort to make the environment much simpler.

It is essential if we are to achieve the ambition to move community-led housing from being a ‘niche’ emerging market into a mainstream option to build homes and transform communities. That’s something that we and the NCLTN having been working hard to do, starting off by sharing staff roles and then delivering more of our work together, including lobbying and holding the first National Community-led Housing Conference to be held on 27th of this month. Learning from Jo Cox’s example, I’ve often simply put it that we realised we had ‘more in common’.

We now want to go further. One way we are doing this is to work with NCLTN, CCH and Locality to start delivering the national elements of that map for the sector. We’re supporting new local enabling organisations, improving the data on your schemes, developing a training and quality mark scheme, and filling gaps in early stage funding.
NCLTN has also been developing a number of new business initiatives to help groups: A new crowdfunding and community shares partnership will be launched at our joint conference, and in the new year a mortgage brokering service, accompanied by a new toolkit to help groups maximise lending on their homes. UK Cohousing has been involved in both projects, and where we have more in common we can deliver more together.

We hope that by joining forces in this way, others will want to join in too and, together, we can make it far easier to deliver a community-led housing project. It really shouldn’t be as hard as it is, and this is our chance to change that.

We now have a clearer map so can see what lies ahead and how to get there.

We can see the potential of community-led housing to deliver tens of thousands of homes.

We can see the potential for community-led housing, CLTs, cohousing, co-ops and self-help housing all to be household terms.

We can see the potential for the national bodies to work together and for it to be far easier to deliver community-led housing homes.

We are ambitious for what this sector can be.

We have many rivers to cross and we have a choice to make: we can stay where we are, with what we know and are comfortable with, keeping community-led housing small and niche, working on our separate initiatives. Or we can take a big jump and see where we land. And we want to jump and jump for joy! So we’re going to go for it and see what happens. And hopefully you’ll want to join us.

But we’re not going to do that without working with all our Members on what we want things to look like. Not just the ‘map’ of the infrastructure that the sector needs, but what sort of sector we want to grow into, and what role our national networks should play.
We’ll be starting that conversation off at the National Community-Led Housing Conference on 27th November and will look to follow that with one to one sessions with you around the country. We look forward to hearing all your views and thoughts on where this sector should get to and hope you can join us at the conference.