Building blocks falling into place for Carmarthen housing co-op

At the Wales Co-operative Centre, we work to utilise co-operative housing to help meet the demand for affordable housing in Wales. As Co-operative Housing Project Manager, I’ve seen recent developments at one pilot site that we’ve supported in South-West Wales.

Gwalia Housing is working in partnership with Carmarthenshire County Council to develop a co-operative housing scheme near Carmarthen town centre that will see 27 new homes built. This development is part of a wider initiative, led by Welsh Government, where three pilot projects are being worked on to explore the use of co-operative models as an additional housing option for people. In 2010 the Welsh Government estimated that Wales would need 284,000 additional homes by 2026. A high proportion of these need to be in the affordable housing sector.

In recent months, Gwalia has held events to recruit members to the Carmarthen housing co-operative. A core group has come forward, comprised of people on the housing waiting list who believe they can bring something to a co-operative housing living situation. As many as 40 founder members have also been helped to get to know each other through various events.

Computer generated image of the development
Computer generated image of the development

The Wales Co-operative Centre and Confederation of Co-operative Housing have held training sessions with the founder members, on issues including governance, the structure of their co-operative and a code of conduct.

On the Carmarthen site, one of the properties has been offered to the local care services, to be shared by people with learning difficulties. The hope is for these customers to join the other founder members. Forthcoming sessions over the next couple of months will a focus on equality and diversity, how Gwalia manages housing services and the development process

One young family, which has been provisionally allocated a property on the Carmarthen site, told us why they’ve got involved: “We are living in temporary accommodation for the homeless, it’s not ideal but it’s a roof over our heads. We had so many issues in our last property that Environmental Health said it was unsafe for us to live in. Also, there’s no security when you rent privately, landlords can tell you to move out at any time. The housing co-operative offers you the chance to live within a close knit community, you know everybody and have the security of housing, you’re in a house and you don’t get kicked out for no reason: it’s all a plus to us. The location is fantastic, it lets me be more flexible with my work as a taxi driver, and I’ll be able to work more hours as well.”

Carms housing coop pic 3Welsh Government has stated its intention to support and promote the creation of more co-operative housing. Its Homes for Wales white paper made a commitment to increase the supply of affordable homes in Wales by 7,500, since increased to 10,000. Five hundred of these will be co-operative homes.

As I mentioned, the Welsh Government is piloting three co-operative housing projects, including the Gwalia site in Carmarthen, the others being in Cardiff (Cadwyn) and Newport (Seren). Initially, they will create around 90 co-operative homes for rent and part ownership across Wales. There is real demand for co-operative housing and there are several different models being explored in different parts of the country.

Our project has generated significant interest across the UK. Currently, co-operative housing accounts for less than 1% of UK homes. In Europe, co-operative housing is far more commonplace – in Estonia, nearly 10,000 co-operative housing organisations own 60% of the nation’s housing stock while one in five homes in Sweden and Poland are part of a co-operative.

Co-operative housing is not new in Wales; Rhiwbina Garden Village in Cardiff was originally run as a co-operative. The four Community Mutuals (RCT Homes, NPT Homes, Bron Afon and Tai Calon) take a co-operative approach, utilising a large scale tenant membership which has taken on the management of former council homes.  More recently, we have seen the development of the West Rhyl Community Land Trust (CLT). It is the first example of a CLT in Wales and I was honoured to attend the launch of its second phase of development last month. There are also a small number of small housing co-operatives in Wales using private sector funding such as ethical bank loans and “loan stock” arrangements.

Co-operatives are a flexible model of housing capable of delivering high quality services. Setting-up housing co-operatives is resource heavy, but the savings and benefits more than outweigh these initial costs. Research suggests that co-operatives generate social and personal benefits that other housing provision cannot. Tenants manage co-operative homes. They decide which suppliers to use for repairs and upkeep or they may decide to do it themselves. They can ensure value for money and gain an increased level or empowerment and feeling of ownership from doing so. Any surpluses made by a co-operative can be used to improve the housing.

When I work with these groups, I can see that community spirit is already developing. Members say they value the empowerment that democratic control will give them and the potential for strong, stable and safe communities based on friendship and togetherness. The Carmarthen project is a great example of this.

Thanks to Gwalia Housing for its help with this blog post

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