27 Jun 2017

Community-led housing offers lessons for us all

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Community-led housing offers lessons for us all

Disrupting a dominant system like the housing supply market is painful and slow. And while custom build is struggling to live up to its potential, it doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea.

Rather, creating change is a measured process, as you have to persuade planners, landowners and financiers of the merits of the route. And then persuade the public to engage with it.

This is further complicated by the fact that custom build, as the wider industry sees it, operates on a spectrum from anything above a single stand-alone self-build to pure custom build where an enabler is bringing on a sites with a range of developers/housing manufacturers, such as Igloo’s Heartlands project.

And finally, building is a slow process. Finding land, obtaining planning permission and actually marketing properties is a long game, and consequently we’re still waiting for many of the first custom build sites to be completed.

Community-led housing solutions

But there is a zeitgeist centred around alternative routes to home ownership and supply, with the last few governments open to new solutions. This has meant that everything from modern methods of construction to custom build is on the agenda.

We’ll see if this support continues post-election, but I don’t expect it to change too much – the housing crisis is just too serious to close off new routes to housing.

Where this ethos is really interesting is that it’s nurturing the small, but dynamic, area of community-led housing.

There’s a sea-change happening that supports the idea that people should be at the heart of communities and be consulted about what’s being built in their neighbourhood.

This is both in terms of what a new development looks like and what people want to see included in the master plan, but also in terms of giving them input into their new home.

And this squares up nicely with the custom build principle that also puts people at the very heart of housing.

Building new ideas

So it’s no surprise that some of the most refreshing and interesting projects are being delivered by community-led housing groups.

We’ve reported on several projects where local residents have got involved in building their own homes, such as Kingsley Road in Liverpool, a 2016 Build It Award winner, and York Road, Bristol, which helped provide homes and hope to homeless ex-service personnel.

I’ve been keenly following the Naked House concept, which has recently received backing from London Mayor Sadiq Khan – who is himself fully behind community-led housing solutions, as evidenced by his new community hub.

Naked House is the result of a group of Londoners faced with a seemingly impossible local housing market. This community group came up with a creative solution to homes with affordability factored in from the start, offering scope to finish and adapt individual homes according to personal circumstances.

Elsewhere, community-led groups are using alternative routes to finance, such as crowd funding as a route to land purchase.

For housing supply, necessity is the mother of invention and this is driving talented but frustrated individuals to come together – in  spite of the status quo – and try to build what society is not offering them.

But again it’s slow. The journey from concept to homes for Older Women’s Cohousing  was 18 years, and we must, as a society, get better at this.

These projects innovate, create homes and, crucially, create community as the future residents work together to create their dream. This might involve anything from discussing a project in a pub, laying bricks side by side or crowd funding.

And these community-led projects engender a sense of place and belonging that means these developments will remain far more desirable places to live for longer than your average anonymous housing estate.

Community-led housing will always be a niche market, but it’s one that we should encourage to thrive alongside our mainstream housing supply chain, to supplement it.

For those companies prepared to engage, it offers innovation and creativity, with plentiful ideas for placemaking that many a volume builder would do well to consider on their own developments.

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