1C) Permanence

Feeling secure within our homes is vital to our wellbeing. This relates to the quality of housing (see Health section) but also to affordability, security and permanence. These are some of the attractions of home ownership, even though they can be illusionary for a mortgage-dependent family struggling to meet their monthly payments. A sense of control can be even more of a challenge in rented housing, particularly in the private rented sector.

Management

Neighbourhood engagement can take many forms. It is common for community groups to be consulted on issues such as policing, planning and other local government functions.

Social landlords can do much to empower their tenants through consultation and engagement. This can also include Tenant Management Organisations (TMOs) where the responsibility and budget for managing the block is devolved to an organisation controlled by elected tenants.

Despite the problems that have come to light as a result of the Grenfell disaster, TMOs can be a valuable tool in empowering tenants and ensuring that management regimes are more responsive to their needs. There is also great value in cooperatives, community housing associations and co- housing schemes where residents have even more control over the development and management of their housing.

In private blocks, residents’ committees can be established. Some developers have provided financial support for early social activities to help new residents get to know each other. This can take place face-to-face and on social media through Facebook and WhatsApp forums. Some residents’ groups in private blocks have used Leasehold Enfranchisement legislation to buy the freehold of their block, even going on to develop more accommodation.

Security

Nearly 40% of the UK population live in rented accommodation. Rising house prices make it difficult for young people to buy their first home, and the proportion of people aged 65 and over who are renting is on the rise. One way to improve the rent- al sector is to allow tenants to personalise property by painting walls, hanging pictures and selecting furnishings, all of which offer a degree of ownership over their living space and give a greater sense of permanence.

What You Can Do

Communities

If the place where you live does not have any form of resident group, start by setting up a WhatsApp Group to get a discussion going. Contact your landlord and maybe organise an initial social event to gauge interest. This can develop as far as residents wish, maybe staying as a consultative forum but possibly taking on more responsibilities. At their most ambitious, this could include self-build initiatives, cohousing groups or housing cooperatives.

Developers and Designers

Invest a little time and resource into helping new residents get to know each other and to start to establish community structures. Work with your management company to ensure that there are opportunities for resident input.

Councils

Do what you can to build council houses. Since the borrowing cap on council house building was removed in 2018, some 20,000 council homes have been built using borrowing and reserves. While this is some way short of the 300,000 council homes a year built in the 1960s, it is an important intervention that provides affordable secure housing. Many councils have set up local housing companies developing housing for sale, market rent and social rent that provide cross subsidy as well as creating mixed communities.

Case study

1C) LILAC (Low Impact Affordable Living Community), Leeds

LILAC is a co-housing community of 20 households, managed through a Mutual Home Ownership Society, a financial model that ensures long-term affordability, shared ownership and control over the management of the development.

An initial shared contribution enabled the Society to take out a corporate mortgage and purchase the land to build a neighbourhood. Residents secure an ‘equity share’ in the scheme by purchasing a lease from the Society with an initial deposit and monthly payments set at around 35% of household income, no matter what size the house is. Residents on higher incomes effectively subsidise rent for those on lower incomes. Residents slowly buy their home through these payments and once they have bought the property, payments reduce and the money is used for communal benefit.

With housing prices continuing to rise in Leeds, this financial system is a form of shared ownership which encourages permanence, affordability and security.

In total, there are twelve flats, eight houses and a communal house, which contains shared facilities like a kitchen and dining area, laundry, multi-purpose room, guest room and workshop.

All properties have small, private outside areas, while larger gardens and play areas are communally maintained, with a ‘community contribution’ expectation of two hours a week per resident. There are nine ‘task teams’ running the site and organising social events such as biweekly shared mealtimes.

With a variety of house sizes and facilities, disabled access on all ground floor apartments and a lift in the common house, LILAC accommodates a range of residents. The building design aims to reduce carbon emissions, with solar roofs, triple glazing and super-insulated walls constructed from natural materials (timber and straw bale). An onsite pond collects water for use within the communal gardens, which include shared allotments for food growing.

“We’ve got this thing called the Lilac Equity Fund … If one household got into difficulties, it could be used for that. They’re prepared to pay 35% of their net income to give them that extra security, because it’s worth more money at the end of the day, the wellbeing effects you get from that security.”

– PAUL CHATTERTON, RESIDENT + FOUNDING MEMBER

Images courtesy of URBED, TOWN, White Design