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Long term solutions to housing issues

Inspiration from our webinar, run by the National Association for Neighbourhood Management.

Guest blog from the National Association for Neighbourhood Management

A number of Big Local areas are starting to talk about housing as being part of their legacy and are looking for inspiration. At a webinar we hosted on Big Local and housing, we heard from two groups that are preparing to make a difference over the long term.

Our first example is Leigh West Big Local, who are developing plans to directly invest in housing as a route to sustained improvement of the housing in their area. We also heard about how Community Land Trusts develop affordable housing that is owned and controlled by the community.

Improving the condition of housing

Stephen Ruffley, from Leigh West Big Local area talked about the partnership’s plans to improve the availability of good quality housing. Through consultations with the community the partnership identified some key problems. These include the poor physical condition of housing stock in the area, issues with the behaviour of tenants and the short length of tenancies, which mean people don’t put roots down or feel part of the community. Stephen’s presentation slides which shows the types of housing in the Big Local area of Leigh West can be viewed here.

Leigh West Big Local partnership have now set up a charity which will allow them to purchase and own properties. They plan to identify local properties in need of significant improvement and buy them through the compulsory purchase order process. They plan to use local charity Groundwork, who have a track record in building repairs and use local apprentices, to carry out the improvement work. This means the partnership will retain properties in local ownership but refurbish them.

The partnership know that to tackle this they need to build strong local partnerships with the council and third sector organisations. Stephen said:

‘We’re being proactive, approaching people and organisations.’

They are working with the local Community Development Finance Institution (CDFI) and hope to be able to offer low cost loans to landlords and home owners for home improvements, ranging from £3k-12k. They have approached Wigan Housing Solutions (a not-for-profit housing agency that are interested in finding sustainable long-term tenancies), to let the properties. The partnership plan to focus on the problems that people have raised (the physical condition of properties and tenants behaviour), but they recognise that there may be scope in the future to address affordable rents or working with local organisations around homelessness.

They have built good relationships with local councillors, local MP Andy Burnham, 5 Boroughs Partnership NHS Foundation Trust and other organisations.

The partnership believes that the more local properties that are in local ownership, and in a good condition, the better it will be for the community. Stephen said:

‘In the long-term we
hope to reverse the decline in the value of our properties.’

Community Land Trusts: securing assets for the long term

Ian Crawley, from Wiltshire Community Land Trust (CLT) is currently advising communities going through various stages of the CLT process as a member of the National CLT Network. CLTs are a good way for communities to deliver affordable housing because it’s about developing assets for the long term that are community owned, community controlled, and that can never be sold. The community can choose to bring in a development partner (e.g. housing association) if they wish, but if they do, the community will retain control. In Ian’s experience, going down the route of a CLT gains widespread community support. This means communities get more power, which in turn means agencies listen and take notice.

CLTs are community-owned through membership. Members can pay as little as £1 for life – not a lot of money – but importantly it shows commitment and gives the scheme credibility. Funds then need to be raised or accessed for:

  • Set up costs: for example, to organise meetings, hire venues and legal fees. There are grants such as the CLT Start Up Fund or available through local authority partners.
  • Planning consent: this can come in at up to £50k, through paying architects costs, for example. Again grants are available or partners such as housing associations may fund these costs.
  • Development and construction costs: the infrastructure and can be funded by partner organisations such as a housing association, or through a loan from Ecology Building Society, Charity Bank, Resonance Ltd, the National CLT Fund and others. The biggest challenge Ian identifies in going down this route is getting community backing because he finds people can be nervous about getting involved in housing and planning as promoters.

A useful resource is the National Community Land Trust Network.

Top tips for Big Local areas

If you’re looking to tackle similar issues, here are some top tips from our webinar contributors:

  • Gather evidence of a problem and record community concern about the problem
  • Identify a range of solutions
  • Start small
  • Get people on board and build credibility
  • Build partnerships

If you are a Big Local partnership that has consulted your community and has a vision for doing something around allotments, affordable housing or a community centre then your next step might be to decide which elements of your vision you want to lead as a partnership and which elements you want to invest in but not lead yourselves. It’s important for Big Local partnerships to strike a balance with putting all their efforts into something like this and also being able to achieve their other priorities.

You can also get inspired by other examples from our housing webinar in this blog.