10 Jul 2018

It’s time for affordable, ecological and people-powered homes

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It’s time for affordable, ecological and people-powered homes

Jon Lee, Business Development Manager at Ecology Building Society discusses how the combination of community-led housing solutions, and a custom build approach, is providing the UK with more and better homes.

Last year’s Housing white paper set out Government’s ambition to meet the predicted demand for 300,000 new homes every year for the foreseeable future, in order to tackle the housing crisis.

Increasing the rate of building to those levels is a daunting task. However, buried deep within the document, was a brief mention of a commitment to support the burgeoning community-led housing sector. We were pleased to see this, as it showed that Government had finally started to take note of the potential for grassroots housing providers to play a bigger role in the delivery of new homes.

Of course, this wasn’t new to us.  At Ecology, we’ve been backing housing that’s powered by people since we were established nearly 40 years ago, when we first started providing mortgages for housing co-operatives.

Ecology specialises in providing mortgages for a range of different tenures and types of occupation, such as housing associations, community land trusts (CLTs), cohousing, community self-builders, as well as continuing to support housing co-operatives.

These groups got a big boost recently as the Secretary of State for the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government (MCHLG), Rt Hon James Brokenshire MP, confirmed that the future of the multi-million-pound Community Housing Fund had been secured.

The long awaited announcement by the Minister in his maiden speech on housing (the fund was originally launched in 2016) will result in the biggest investment the sector has seen in over 30 years, and will provide revenue funding to help groups reach planning stage, raising capital for site infrastructure such as roads and utilities.  This support will help them shift from niche to mainstream.

We were really excited about the prospects for community-led housing.  Here are five reasons why we’re backing the movement:

Permanently affordable homes

Community-led housing creates genuinely affordable, quality housing for local people.

Jessie and George, Ecology borrowers and London CLT residents

Developers’ definitions of ‘affordable’ often don’t reflect the reality for the majority of people. While needing to be financially viable, community-led housing is built to meet the needs of local people, not to maximise financial return. Rather than basing house prices on open market value, community-led schemes can take a more innovative approach, like linking the price of homes to average local wages to ensure genuine affordability. This is the method being applied by the London Community Land Trust (CLT) in their St. Clements project in Tower Hamlets.

Ecology has been working with residents of the London CLT scheme to pioneer award-winning innovative mortgages for people seeking to buy permanently affordable homes within community-led developments and is planning to expand this approach to support similar schemes across the UK.

Stronger communities

Community-led housing projects bring people together.

They emphasise the power of collective action and are designed around spaces that encourage people to connect. At the same time, private home ownership allows for privacy when desired. This balance of privacy and connectivity can mean benefits for mental and physical health. It can also act as a catalyst for original ideas, which, through collective energy, can be translated into meaningful action.

Pedestrianised ‘street’ at Lancaster Cohousing

Environmental sustainability

Community-led housing prioritises the environment.

The focus on long-term affordability and community well-being is realised through energy-efficient housing, the provision of green spaces, and the sharing of material resources. The Ecology-backed Lancaster Cohousing scheme is an excellent example of how such developments can enable a more sustainable approach to everyday living. Containing 35 houses built to Passivhaus standard, the development includes renewable energy technologies, communal laundry facilities, shared cars, pedestrianised streets, and ample green space for residents and wildlife.

Long-termism

Community-led housing is designed with the future in mind.

From investing in high build quality and energy-saving technologies to ensuring permanent affordability of properties, the groups behind community-led housing schemes prioritise the long-term well-being of residents and the environment. This stands in stark contrast to an approach that exists to maximise the short-term financial potential of a housing development – often at the expense of the local community.

Empowerment

Community-led housing puts local people firmly in control.

Many communities feel excluded from decisions regarding local housing provision. The sale of public land to private developers has prompted outrage from many local communities that feel they have been excluded from decisions and, often, priced out of new residential developments. The New Economics Foundation estimates that only one in five of the homes that are forecast to be built on public land and sold off are likely to be classed as ‘affordable’.

This has prompted some communities to take things into their own hands, as in the case of the St. Anne’s Redevelopment Trust (StART) in Haringey. StART is a co-operative working to build hundreds of permanently affordable homes on the site of a former NHS hospital that had been earmarked for private development.

Community-led housing and custom build

Increasingly we’re seeing community-led housing groups taking a custom build approach to their projects.  Custom build provides flexibility in terms of design choices for community groups as well as the reassuring comfort of working with an experienced contractor.

We recently supported the Bath Street Collective Custom Build development, in Edinburgh. This custom build is home to four separate families that came together to purchase the site and build a modern tenement. Working without a conventional developer or house-builder, the families were each able to design a home that would meet their individual needs, while ensuring that the overall property was as low-energy as possible. The building was designed to Passivhaus equivalent levels of energy efficiency and uses a cross-laminated timber structural frame.  The Bath Street development was one of the winners of the prestigious The Royal Incorporation of Architects in Scotland (RIAS) Andrew Doolan Best Building in Scotland Award 2018 award.

Financing a community-led housing project

Ecology is unique in providing development finance and long-term mortgages for groups as well as mortgages for their members, including shared ownership.  We take a balanced view of the social and ecological merits of each case when considering support for community-led housing proposals. This includes lending on properties that would have been turned down by other lenders such as rescuing empty homes and converting derelict properties. When lending on new builds we’ll always consider custom build or innovative off-site techniques as well as traditional construction methods and materials.

As one of the leading lenders supporting community-led schemes, we see our role as an enabler and would always encourage groups to engage with us at an early stage so we can work with them to find solutions to support their project.

Community-led schemes demonstrate the power of grassroots action when it comes to reimagining the housing market. Ecology has never been an organisation to follow the norm and we’re enthusiastic about supporting communities that want to stand up and do things differently.

Credit: National Community Land Trust Network

Infographic credit: National Community Land Trust Network

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