Co-operative housing, deliverable at all scales

After attending the UK’s first ever Community-led Housing conference in London at the end of November I was astounded by the enthusiasm and passion in the room. There was a real buzz amongst the speakers and delegates, especially as the Housing and Planning minister announced the relaunch of the Community Housing fund; it certainly seems as though the movement on the brink of something special. This funding, unfortunately, doesn’t apply to us across the Severn Bridge, but I do feel that the appetite for community-led housing in Wales is growing, especially amongst those who feel that they can no longer rely on the institution to address their housing need.

So how do we rise to the challenge of building more community-led housing in Wales? The Welsh Government have set a target of building 20,000 affordable homes by 2020, with local authorities and registered social landlords (RSL’s) seeming to rise to the challenge. Co-operative housing will not, in its current state, make up a large proportion of this target, but it can contribute to developing more resilient, cohesive and sustainable communities.

During my first six months as Co-operative housing project advisor, I have met with many RSL’s and local authorities and been asked on countless occasions, what are the benefits of them developing housing co-ops? So, here is my attempt to try and ease the concerns of any RSL or local authority who are embarking on their co-operative journey, with 10 good reasons to set-up a housing co-op.

1. Co-operative housing developments don’t need to cost any more than ‘standard’ development and are eligible for Welsh Government funding, including Social Housing Grant, Housing Finance and the Innovative Housing Programme. Co-operative housing schemes can even be used to meet the requirements of Section 106. Schemes are often cost neutral quicker than ‘standard’ development, because rent is paid on time and there are fewer void turnarounds.

2. Co-operative housing schemes don’t need to take any longer than standard developments, you just need to involve the community from the very start, instead of just handing over a house that they’ve had no involvement in. Would you want to move into a house that you’ve never seen, had no say in design/decoration and don’t know the area or who you are going to living next door to? It’s about doing with the community, not doing to.

3. Small scale co-operative schemes are usually the most successful, as it gives the opportunity for a close community to develop. This enables developers to build on sites that are usually discarded because they are unsuitable or too small- bigger isn’t always better.

4. Void damage is kept to a minimum, and there is a lower void turnover rate in general. People don’t just abandon properties or communities that they have had a hand in developing/managing. Neighbours know who is coming and going, and work proactively to maintain a stable, cohesive community.

5. Co-operative schemes tends to have fewer rent arrear problems because it is managed by the community and any issues are dealt with sooner rather than later.

6. ASB incidents in co-operative housing schemes happen very rarely, and like rent arrear issues are nipped in the bud before escalating into more serious issues. Residents get to know their neighbours and form friendships before moving in, which allows them to be able to knock on their neighbours’ door if they have an issue with them, rather than having to call a housing officer to deal with the problem.

7. As part of the process, tenants are involved in an extensive training programme which gives them the opportunity to develop new, transferrable skills. In many cases, residents have been able to find work or move up the employment ladder as a result of their involvement in the co-op. It also gives staff the opportunity to be involved in something innovative and develop new skills, which increases job satisfaction.

8. Tenants and residents are more satisfied because they have more say in what happens to their homes and the wider community.

9. Co-operative housing promotes true community engagement and really does put residents at the heart of shaping services.

10. Co-op housing schemes can promote wider regeneration initiatives and create self-sufficient, resilient and healthy communities. The self-help and self-responsibility approach to housing can reduce reliance on wider support services.

Co-operative housing is not going to contribute thousands of homes to the current 20,000 affordable homes target, but it’s important to remember that it is not a niche product. It can offer an affordable alternative to traditional home ownership options, covering all tenures, for everyone. It’s not a one size fits all solution, it’s about meeting the needs of individual communities in ways that work for the residents. Co-operative and community-led housing can be a part of the wider solution to the housing crisis in the UK.

Developing a co-op housing scheme can seem like a daunting task for those who have never done anything like it before. It does require some hard work and commitment, both from the staff and the community. But more than just a quick fix, it can be a part of a long term sustainable option to providing affordable homes and creating resilient communities- the short term ‘pain’ therefore, is worth the long-term gain.

The Wales Co-Operative centre offers support and advice to any new or existing organisation wishing to develop co-operative housing. We can provide access to experts’ advice about co-operative housing and we can provide skills and development training for members of a co-operative. We have recently developed a Co-operative Housing Pilot Toolkit, developed to help community groups, housing associations, co-ops, local authorities and others in the initial stages of considering how to develop new co-operative & community-led homes. Take a look if you want to build happier, healthier, more resilient communities https://wales.coop/a-guide-to-developing-housing-co-ops/.

More information on co-operative housing and what support is available can be obtained from the Wales Co-operative Centre on 0300 111 5050 or at co-op.housing@wales.coop.

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