‘Levelling up’ and community led housing’s role

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Rosie McBride (Research Officer) and Tom Chance (joint Chief Executive) write about our new State of the Sector report, and what it tells us about the community led housing sector in ‘left behind’ parts of England.

Levelling up left behind communities is high on the political agenda. The Prime Minister asked Danny Kruger MP to look at the role of communities in this, and he duly reframed the aim as building community power around people and places.

One striking recommendation is that ​”Community Land Trusts and other forms of community-led housing – usually small developments, supported by local people – should be recognised as the future of social housing, both in rural and urban areas, and more enthusiastically backed by government.”

So what contribution can CLTs and other forms of community led housing make to the leveling up agenda?

Many people assume that CLTs are all in well-to-do areas run by retired professionals. But our State of the Sector report conclusively shows that isn’t the case. Whilst CLTs do address issues of lack of affordability in affluent areas, they are also active in the most deprived parts of each region of England and Wales.

We’ve done a little more analysis of groups in these ‘left behind’ areas to draw out the opportunities they represent to the levelling up agenda.

The Local Trust identified 206 local areas across England, combining multiple datasets to create a ‘community needs’ index and then to pick out areas that have high needs and too little social infrastructure to meet them.

We’ve mapped all the groups in our database that are in those local areas, and those that are within 2.5 miles of those areas. The results show that community led housing is already active in left-behind communities, and suggest it could make a much greater contribution, by both creating more homes and improving the wellbeing of those communities

In this map, the pink dots represent 276 community led housing projects within 2.5 miles of a ‘left behind’ local area, together owning, building, or planning 20,600 homes. The blue diamonds are just those projects within the ‘left behind’ wards themselves  – 40 in total and a quarter of the homes.


More community led homes

Many of these projects are long-established Tenant Management Organisations and housing co-operatives with thousands of homes but no development plans. Each of these groups hold skills and experience in building and managing community led homes that represent enormous untapped potential. What if they were supported to follow groups like Leathermarket and WECH to build more homes around, or on top of, their buildings?

Most of the new homes being planned or built come from CLTs, and from local community organisations that don’t normally fit under the community led housing banner – homeless shelters, womens’ aid groups, social enterprises and so on. Perhaps these should be brought under the banner?

The opportunities exist. What is the potential of this to continue and grow if the Community Housing Fund is renewed? What if existing housing associations took up Danny Kruger’s challenge and partnered with CLTs as the new form of social housing provision in these places, building not just homes but empowered communities?


Greater community wellbeing

Community Led Homes published a great report last year called More than Housing. It showed that community led housing doesn’t just offer a roof at an affordable price, it can build security, community, even friendship.

We’ve also just published research by Capital Economics demonstrating the Value for Money of community led housing – not just because it provides affordable homes that reduce the housing benefit bill, but also because it improves health, wellbeing and income equality.

Danny Kruger recognises that CLTs can also build wider community capacity and power. CLTs that build or refurbish homes often go on to revive pubs, shops, high streets, enterprise centres, bakeries, markets, orchards, and more.

This is really the potential of community led housing to level up left behind communities. Instead of seeing places as problems and failures, and trying to bring outside solutions, community led housing recognises and builds up the power of the local community to make their area thrive. Our data suggests this is already happening and could be central to the Government’s leveling up agenda.


Enhancing the picture

A final word on data. The State of the Sector report and this blog both draw on several years’ work in partnership with Community Led Homes, funded by the Nationwide Foundation, Power to Change, the Community Housing Fund, and our corporate partners. This blog demonstrates the power of good data, the stories we can tell and the questions we can answer about the sector. We want to help policymakers, but also to show the commercial opportunities in this growing marketplace for lenders and investors, developers and housing associations, architects, and solicitors.

This is why our Board and staff put data at the heart of our business plan for 2020-23. We currently have a good picture of where CLTs are, and what they are working on, but we want to know more about how CLTs succeed in building homes and how they demonstrably help their communities.

We will be working more with enabler hubs, funders, and our corporate partners to further improve the data over the next few years. If we can level up our data we can level up the sector’s profile with government and industry, and we can level up our knowledge about how CLTs can best succeed, removing barriers to CLTs leveling up their communities. Too much leveling up?

If you’re working on a project in a ‘left behind area’, you can contribute to the picture by submitting some evidence about your work to the No Place Left Behind Commission. They want to hear your best ideas and most compelling stories and have a direct line to the cabinet when they present their findings.