How to build a community housing project

Two days of interactive workshops brought together an inspiring range of people involved in housing campaigns.

Creating a fairer, more equal society by supporting communities to take control of the resources which underpin our daily lives lies at the heart of NEF’s work. And nowhere is the need for community control more acute than in the UK’s dysfunctional housing sector. As the crisis in housing deepens across the country, people are increasingly finding themselves unable to access decent, affordable accommodation. So what can communities do to address their housing needs?

Today we’re launching our campaign to save public land and spark more affordable housing projects led by the community. We’re working alongside a network of campaign groups, activists and community organisations to make this happen, including the RUSS Lewisham, Birmingham Impact Hub, Shared Assets, Greater Manchester Housing Action, Bioregional, Start Haringey, Reclaim Holloway and the CLT Network. All of their websites contain valuable information on setting up a community-led housing project or housing campaign.

Over the past couple of weeks NEF, alongside the Rural Urban Synthesis Society (RUSS), have run an interactive two-part workshop on community-led housing as a way for people to address their local housing needs, providing the decent, sustainable and affordable homes which the wider housing market is failing to deliver. The workshops ran through a number of practical, legal and financial issues, as well as providing an overview of the concept of community-led housing and the positive impact these projects could have.

The two evenings drew in an audience made up of people from a wide range of areas and backgrounds. Amongst the attendees were those who had grown up in various parts of London now facing the prospect of being priced out of the city, Milton Keynes residents keen to find out about affordable housing in the face of looming redevelopment, those interested in providing accessible and inclusive accommodation for communities on the sharp end of gentrification, and several who knew little about community housing but were interested in finding out more.

Many participants also expressed an interest in self-building projects, which would have the wider impact of providing skills and employment.

As Chair of the RUSS Kareem explained, community-led housing has a remit to act in the interests of the community in which it is embedded. Participants of the course broke into groups to identify the key principles they would wish to organise their group around, and the feedback was illustrative of the need for homes to be affordable, secure, good quality, sustainable and accessible for all. Many participants also expressed an interest in self-building projects, which would have the wider impact of providing skills and employment in areas where opportunities are limited.

The model of community-led housing provides a way in which we can mitigate the acceleration of the crisis in housing affordability which is resulting in part from the ongoing public land sell-off – where the government is auctioning off land owned by government departments to private developers who are failing to deliver the affordable homes families and communities so desperately need.

During her session, Alice Martin, NEF’s Subject Lead for Housing and Work, explained how community-led housing groups could provide a much-needed alternative to the current direction of travel by acquiring public land up for sale to put to use for the community, rather than profit-hungry developers. Alice even explained how group-building efforts for a community housing project could be supported through making a group activity out of scoping out public land up for sale. Through contextualising community-led housing in terms of the challenge it presents to the national picture, where public need is being overridden to serve private profit, Alice’s session illustrated how the potential for positive impact presented by community-led housing can extend beyond the immediate community involved.

Organising a group of people around a cause is an important dynamic which lies at the heart of community-led housing, and NEF’s Organiser Becky Winson delivered a session focused on the potential to build power and achieve transformative change through building a community housing group. The potential to embed ambitious, high-impact goals within community projects catalysed the participants’ consideration of the wider potential for change which could be made possible through the resource of people power.

The workshops were a fantastic way to kickstart NEF’s new housing campaign, and we look forward to collaborating with other inspiring partners working in this area in the upcoming months.

Visit our map showing land that’s being sold off by public bodies across the country.

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