Creatively tackling urban and rural housing shortages in Wales – part 1

From Rachel Marshall, Business and Enterprise Manager, DTA Wales

Locality is a national network that helps people to set up locally owned and led organisations, exchanging ideas on community asset ownership, community enterprise and other similar issues. Locality has joined forces with the Building and Social Housing Foundation (BSHF) to spotlight new community-led housing developments by running a series of ‘See for Yourself’ events. This has included recent visits to housing co-operative schemes in Wales, including Loftus Garden Village in Newport, and Ty Cyfle in Pontypool.

In this first of a two-part blog post, I will focus more on the visit to Loftus Village, with the Ty Cyfle visit featuring on this website tomorrow.

BSHF is currently supporting the growth of community-led housing through an intensive programme of promotional and collaborative activity. This activity is being supported by the Nationwide Foundation as part of their Alternative Housing Models funding programme and the ‘See for Yourself’ event, and also the Wales Co-operative Centre Co-operative Housing support programme.

Last month, their event focused on creatively tackling urban and rural housing shortages in Wales –  including an insight into the Welsh Government’s work on developing co-operative housing.

Tŷ Cyfle in Pontypool is a housing co-op for young people aged 16 – 18. Loftus in Newport offers 19 cooperative homes with a shared space and garden.

When, in 2010, the then Welsh Housing Minister, Huw Lewis, tasked the country to build 500 new affordable, co-operative homes, and made funding available to support this increase in supply, the housing sector in Wales took notice.  Supported by a new Co-operative Housing in Wales Project (a joint funded initiative between Welsh Government and the Nationwide Foundation) a number of pioneer and pilot projects came forward.

Dave Palmer, based at Wales Co-operative Centre and who runs the support initiative, has worked with all the agencies involved in developing these homes from housing associations, Local Authorities, financiers, and perhaps most importantly the communities and individual people themselves who have formed the various different housing co-operatives.  25 schemes across Wales are now underway.

The learning from Dave’s project is clear as he told delegates at our See for Yourself: Wales visit on 14th September 2016 as part of the Locality and BHSF’s recent series of best practice events:  Not all housing co-ops are the same, and a one size fits all approach was just not going to work.  Bespoke arrangements for each community, and each housing co-operative were required in order to meet local needs.  Local people responded enthusiastically and creatively when given the opportunity, although it is fair to say due to the time constraints and conditions of the funding some of the schemes were more “community–led” than others.  Strong partnership between those involved has resulted.  Housing staff have learnt new skills, and are as enthusiastic as the communities to enable them to make decisions.

Despite rail delays due to the closure of the Severn Tunnel, and road delays due to tailbacks on the A40 in Monmouthshire, a mixed group of housing professionals, lenders, academics, Communities First Programme staff and others gathered in Newport for the presentations first before undertaking two site visits so people could see for themselves.  At least the sun was shining on one of the warmest September days ever!  Judging by the number and detailed questions that the group asked, they were certainly inspired by what they saw on the visits.

Firstly we heard about the inspiring Loftus Garden Village development in Newport.  A project of Charter Housing (part of the Pobl Group and a DTA Wales Member), working with the Loftus Village Association, 19 co-operative homes (from 1 to 4 bedrooms) have been built as part of a larger development of eventually 250 homes (once all phases of work are completed in 2018).   Bronwen Lloyd and Alison Starling from Charter Housing presented, and Luana one of the co-operators who has been involved with the project right from the start also spoke of her experiences. Most owners / tenants are now in their homes, having moved in over the last 3 weeks to a month.  Only 1 or 2 are yet to move in.

A chance conversation led to the scheme being included in the Welsh Government pilot, as the space in the development, anything up to 60% of the space, there was a lot of synergy with the idea of developing a co-operative.  However they had to undertake market research first to determine if people really did understand and want to live co-operatively.  They determined that the ownership model was of interest to people but that the homes would still have to be affordable.  They started exploring ways that a shared ownership model for the housing co-op homes in the larger development could be put in place.  The result after 4 years work is a new co-operative housing development which incorporates a range of key elements: co-operation, affordability, sustainability and flexibility.

The model has evolved along the way, as understanding on both sides has grown.  The housing association has been the housing developer, but has walked alongside the community all the way along, offering quiet support as they have needed it.  The co-op rules now allow for a mixed tenure: 17 of the homes are on a shared equity basis (from 30% to 70%, with the option of eventually buying 100% of the home from Charter later on down the line), 1 on a freehold basis, and 1 on a rental basis on an intermediate rent.  A management agreement between the housing association and the community defines the co-operative responsibilities.   The co-operative principles on which Loftus is based grow stronger as the group are becoming more established.  The group has access to a shared community space: a garage for them to meet and store tools, and a garden which they plan to turn into a community garden for growing fruit and veg in the co-op.  They collect rent on behalf of the housing association (the first month going smoothly so far), and will also look after resales, manage neighbourhood disputes and co-op services.

The homes are just stunning.  First we walked down the street of co-operatively owned homes, seeing the proposed community garden and shared garage space.  Then we toured the site, the magnificent central shared area with planting, bridges and trickling water from the stream in the background, and then viewed the beautifully staged 2 and 3 bedroom show-homes.  It is hard to believe we were in Newport.  As one delegate said: “The visit itself took me by surprise – the presentations really didn’t prepare me for such a terrific experience at the estate.  I think all of us felt a sense of ‘wow’ when looking at the show homes and in our appreciation of the street scene”.

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