The idea of Community Led Housing is starting to gain more and more momentum at the moment with national coverage of CLTs in the Big Issue and Channel 4’s look at the housing crisis. On the 2nd of August we ran a workshop along with NEF to explore the role that community led housing could have in Birmingham. With respect to the schemes and groups that have already done significant work in the city so far, the movement for more community led housing in the city was apparent with 45 people in attendance.
We discussed some of the current issues that Birmingham faces, which as you can imagine are multiple and varied. From suitable large housing for large families to fight overcrowding through to student housing and the inevitable affordability discussion.
A key theme came out was the lack of involvement in existing developments, we have a successful local council housing arm in Birmingham Municipal Housing Trust, but private developments are still very developer led and profit focused.
The prevailing development model was a recurring theme when talking about housing issues, the quality of developments, opaqueness of land deals and potential gentrification through regeneration of parts of the city were all key concerns. The view being that a model which focuses on maximising return on investment rather than than any community investment will need to a mode disparate and unequal city. Concern was also raised that the there appears to be more city council support for this style of large scale development rather than to attempt small scale experimentation by communities.
There is an acceptance that the city will need to build many new homes over the next decade and most were supportive of new developments but in general people want those developments to cater for everyone and not just the ‘Luxury Apartment’ section of the market. The city needs more than tens of thousands of two bed apartments.
How these developments are realised and managed was also a concern. Renters rights and rent affordability are often minimise in developments seeking absent investors rather than present owners and community members.
With this in mind there is significant support for a community led development model. One which places the emphasis on building homes and not investment units. And there are plenty of examples to learn from, and exploring these examples was one of the main responses when we asked ‘What should a group do next?’
The desire to visit some existing community led developments along with further research into the meaning of community in our context were key actions. Understanding what community means and what community we are talking about and whether one group can really work for all communities or whether separate groups with different focuses are needed. How do you support people to organise and help build skills so it’s not a one off? What platforms are needed for sharing information across groups?
Engagement with the city council was also important, working with the council and providing opportunities to experiments for community led projects, though not to the extent were the community led aspect of the group is lost.
The existing developer tends to run through a lengthy but deceptively simple process. Identifying land, raising investment finance, process through planning, commissioning contractors and managing the build process all whilst attempting to sell units at a price to hit ROI promised to investors.
It’s not easy but it’s also not difficult disrupt, with enough energy and people power we can start a new housing market in the city. One of the statements seem very fitting for me.
“get together – collaborate – take action”
So, who fancies a trip to Leeds?