Community involvement in housing is a great future for policy

In the interests of transparency,  I am not impartial (is anybody?). I am a volunteer director of a community land trust (not named as I am writing for the community housing cause in general). Also I am no longer a party member largely down to becoming exasperated with national party housing policies and the focus on being electable locally thus encouraging nimbyism. This policy could go further but is comprehensive and well thought out.

We cannot have arbitrary targets that are nationally set without paying the price. This cost was felt deeply during the COVID-19 pandemic with those in flats with no gardens, overcrowded with children and parents attempting schooling and working in 2/3 rooms. Local to me there was also a suggestion in my local area the unit targets be artificially met by implying micro pads could fill the gap in targets in affordable housing. This was of great concern as micro studios are worse than what many families are forced to endure in emergency accommodation. Most of our housing list is families; we don’t need commuter studios we need family homes.

However, today a leader I believed was part of the problem surprised me.  Ed Davey has suggested exactly what is needed in the heart of many local authorities: A community-led approach to housing. This policy could have gone further and spoken more of the role of community land trusts and the role they could possess e.g. access to Community Infrastructure Levy and Section 106 Funds. These are usually incorporated local not-for-profits accredited by the FCA, so why not? They also are also by and large are committed to co-designing affordable housing at the most local level.

However, the reaction of many seems to be to ridicule and attempt to call this out for something it really isn’t. The disposal of current targets that count the numbers and bottom line rather than the quality is something to celebrate not scorn. Social housing is sorely needed and the private rental market is broken.

Community involvement means fulfilling local need not developer pockets. It means actively listening and then delivering in conjunction with local people. It means local priorities are the focus thus driving up quality, sustainability and making a real difference. This has been happening in the periphery of housing for decades and recently gaining traction. This can be more mainstream and it is within the gift of Conference.

In many ways this is not only an incredibly vital policy change but more liberal than most because it’s believing in people. It invests in that belief and involves them at every stage. This is not doing construction to a community, it is co-design at its very best.  Allocation policies can reflect what might be missing in a workforce or to combat a second homes problem. Rental rates can reflect an average local income; thus, improving living standards for many. Whilst personally I don’t agree with right to buy, I love the idea that local authorities can choose what is right of them. This is marrying together so many of the things that it means to be a Liberal Democrat. So, imagine my surprise and dismay at its reception.

You only need look at St Minver in Rock, Cornwall, We Can Make, Knowle West,  Bristol and East Cambridgeshire CLT. These three examples draw upon rural, urban, and self-build elements of community led housing only in so far as to show precisely why the ‘community- led housing tool kit’ can aid in the building our nation’s resilience, in the wake of the last few years. It is also is able to deliver wholly bespoke solutions to very local issues.

Whilst right to buy is desirable for some local authorities. In others in areas particularly areas of high land value it is becoming more desirable to look to community land trusts to fill the gap in housing need. This is because they are owned by the entire community. They are then maintained and run by the community. Perhaps best of all new and different council of administration cannot make that hard work void and sell it off. The asset lock means it is kept forever and the affordability is recycled generation after generation.

Well done, Ed – this policy has made me believe in the good the Lib Dems can do again.

* Elizabeth Jones is a community activist and volunteer founding director of a community land trust from Windsor.

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5 Comments

  • I have been involved in my local CLT since I and a few others founded it. We were ecstatic when Charlie K appeared on the cover of Inside Housing in 2005 having declared CLTs our policy. And again when Andrew George became director of the Cornwall one after 2015.

    But they will really only ever be a small part of the solution unless we fundamentally reform the housing market. And if we are doing that we should take the next step, that our party forebears so nearly took 114 years ago, and implement one of the core principles of CLTs as core policy – that the land belongs to all and we should base our government’s funding on people paying for what they use, instead of what they produce through work and capital: land value tax. Until we do, and do it comprehensively, we will never really sort the housing problem. Once we do, the market in what people are prepared to pay in tax for a location will create densification incentives and get housing most importantly where, and in the quantity that people demand, rather than what politicians or NIMBYs or YIMBYs decide.

  • Oh, and like you, Elizabeth, I am about to lapse as a member because of our collective failure to take the land issue seriously.

  • Good article, Elizabeth. CLT’s have been a beam of light showing what is possible in an otherwise dismal landscape.
    I would not want to deprive council tenants of the right to buy their home. But council housing has to be simultaneously replaced on a one for one basis to ensure that an adequate stock of council properties for all that need it remains available.
    Council properties could even be sold to qualifying council tenants at a depreciated value of the building only, with a covenant attached to the title requiring payment of an annual Land Value Tax thereafter.

  • Helen Dudden 23rd Sep '23 - 9:57am

    I comment on accessible homes. Also hope to visit a factory making modular homes. Wiltshire are using these to ease a very urgent problem for Power Wheelchair users.
    Making these comments I still have concerns about misuse of green belt and farming.
    There are many second homes and derelict homes. Empty buildings.

  • @Jock – “ densification incentives”

    The acid test of LVT is whether it encourages the doubling of London’s density to that of Paris…

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