Future Homes for London, 13th/14th April 2018, RCA

https://www.rca.ac.uk/schools/school-of-architecture/school-architecture-events/future-homes-london-alternate-models/

Here’s some notes, in a not terribly organised fashion, from two very productive days at an event last week organised by the RCA’s school of architecture. In fact it was a kind of co-production with StART – the St. Anne’s Redevelopment Trust – a community-driven Trust based in Haringey, that is looking to purchase a site in the borough being sold by the local NHS Trust, and build genuinely affordable housing on it.

The event title was open, but what it was really about was how we might begin to build the homes that the UK really needs, that are affordable by the people who really need them. The focus was on models: Community Land Trusts, Co-operatives, and – to a lesser extent – CoHousing. (I know, CoHousing is my thing, bear with me.)

I won’t try and try and reproduce all the discussions or presentations here – a lot of ground was covered. Also, there should be slides posted from all the speakers at some point, and I’ll add/link to these.

Instead, here’s what I thought was interesting / useful to know / or struck me as important.

A bit about StART

Their own site tells you lots – they’re a Trust, but seem to think that the most likely form they will take will be a CLT, or Community Land Trust. Key to this is that the Trust is controlled by the local community, which allows the land owned by the Trust to remain in its ownership in perpetuity, to be used or disposed of only under the rules of the Trust.

Not to be confused with co-operatives or CoHousing, neither of which are strictly speaking about ownership.

Here’s what Vanessa Rickett from StART described as their four primary aims:

FIRST:  The Trust must have control, in perpetuity. This means ownership of the freehold.

SECOND:  The homes on the site must be genuinely affordable, in perpetuity.

THIRD:  Control over who gets to live there: local people, those with a specific housing need, but a mix.

FOURTH:  Control over the physical form of the homes and the overall development: green space (1), specialised housing for vulnerable, good quality – and high density! (2) homes built to much better than market standards.

(1) Interestingly, the Trust is keen for the green space to be used as a ‘porous border’ both by its own residents and those recovering from mental health issues on the part of the site to be retained by the NHS.

(2) The NHS Trust had planned for 470 homes on the site. StART have found that in fact, there is broad local support for almost double that density, IF they are genuinely affordable.

Post blog news: GLA purchases the site! 

Projects from other countries

A pretty inspiring mix of projects from elsewhere in Europe, and Australia, a quick roundup…

Although there were two CoHousing projects presented from Berlin, I might write about these separately, so will jump over these for the moment. Both followed the Baugruppe model, which in this context is pretty much CoHousing. As such, both schemes were privately owned by their residents, not the co-operative or CLT models that were the focus of much of the subsequent discussion. (Silvia Carpeneto from Carpaneto Schöningh Architekten in Berlin wasn’t able to be there, but I know her and the Co-operative project, Spreefeld, well, and touched on it in a previous post.)

 

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Anyhoo, the others:

La Borda – an ambitious new co-operative in Barcelona that’s also a CoHousing project. The group seems to have channelled a fantastic amount of local energy into creating a project – now nearing completion – that has managed to pull off a mix of low-cost but inspired, environmentally efficient design that’s both affordable and physically integrated into the public realm.

Kraftwerk I – an impressive part of Zurich (and Switzerland’s) huge co-operative housing sector. English here. Some factoids about co-operative housing in Switzerland:

  • a whopping 20% of Zurich’s housing is co-ops, likely to increase (!) to 35% in the foreseeable future. (!!)
  • Co-operatives are the model for social housing provision, with 10-20% subsidised for this purpose, but also serve a much larger slice of the population.
  • Although we have many housing co-ops in the UK, some of these are not owners of their own housing or freeholds, In Switzerland, all housing co-ops are more like CLTs – the members each hold a ‘co-operative share’, and also pay rent to the co-op. They are, effectively owners for the time they live there, but can’t buy or sell their share, i.e. they can’t use their home as a speculative asset.
  • Yes, Zurich does have a crisis-level shortage of affordable housing, but recent legislation ensures that it can sell housing land ONLY to housing co-operatives.

The Nightingale Model, Melbourne. Melbourne’s housing market seems spectacularly broken even by British standards, especially in environmental terms. Jeremy McLeod of Breathe explained how he had self-financed the start of a chain of housing projects that cut out the large house builders to create some housing that was he described as “just good-normal housing” – apartment blocks that offers less-is-more, stripped down, green design at a lower than market price. This is achieved through many ideas: cutting out the sales and promotion costs of big developers, stripping out unnecessary levels of finish, fighting – successfully – against the nonsensical planning requirement for car parking, and using the spare space created for discount-rented startup business in its place.

Notably (for me and my work, especially) – he emphasised a particular aspect of market failure: younger people are being told ‘renting is fine, you’re a flexible, mobile generation’. But what happens when those now young renters hit retirement age? He noted that at one of his first projects (where he also lives I think?) – the social glue is essentially three women over 60 (also, a guy who doesn’t talk much but walks his dog for him).

Key thoughts

My own thoughts, not necessarily reflecting exactly what was presented on the day:

  1. What CLTs, Housing Co-ops, CoHousing have in common: all are trying to offer people what the housing market is totally failing to do.
  2. But also, sadly, what the state is failing to do. In fact, local authorities, health trusts and others in possession of land are often not trusted to do the right thing with that land, because those authorities so strapped for cash; selling off the family silver to plug a hole in their operating costs.
  3. Community Land Trusts have the specific aim of creating housing that is removed from speculation; something that is a home, not an asset class.
  4. Touched on, but not explored in great depth: who actually is ‘the community’? In rural situations this might actually be clearer; in urban areas it makes sense that the community is local people. And that the housing should be provision for a range of people in greatest need. But more than one person from StART admitted they were struggling to reach those who are probably in greatest need.
  5. Drawing on both 2. and 3. – under what legitimacy are decisions made by a Community Trust, particularly in terms of housing allocation?
  6. Not a talking point on the day… but a young friend of mine who was there pointed out (to me) that many young Londoners who rent are forced to move often; they are never able to become ‘local people’.

And the biggest issue: financing and access to land. The seemingly impossible challenge is, of course, how a community groups gets money to buy land, especially in the southeast and London, in order to produce housing that can be removed from market speculation in the first place.

StART are fundraising, and need £50million. Do get in touch with them if you’re up for a donation.

What was very interesting though was the input toward the end of the Day 2 by Pete Gladwell (Head of Public Sector Partnerships, Legal & General Investment Management). He painted a picture of growing pension funds looking to invest more directly in housing provision than previously, much of which had been done through lending to central and local government, as well as to housing associations. Key is that what such funds are seeking is ‘patient’ investment, nowadays the opposite of what the major house builders are looking for, and that community-driven projects might find this an increasingly fruitful source of financing.

Finally, in my ‘own realm’ of older people and CoHousing, Stephen Hill, speaking about the K1 CoHousing project in Cambridge, touched on the fact that some older buyers with equity had been able to invest in the first phase as a kind of ‘kickstarter’ effect. I might have misunderstood that particular comment (will revisit this at some point). But it did occur to me that something that might provide one small part of the funding solution is this:

Community Land Trusts have a community, but need capital

Many (I know, not all) older people have capital, but lack (local) community

Just sayin’.

 

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