Jesse’s Hereford Times Column – The importance of Community Housing

Last Saturday I was delighted to open the official launch of the new Herefordshire Centre for Community-Led Housing (HCCLH).

This is a very important project, led by James Murphy and Nancy Winfield, whose goal is to stimulate the building of more community land trusts, co-owned and community led housing in Herefordshire.

Supported initially through a £503,000 grant from the Government’s Community Housing Fund to Herefordshire Council, and organised through local charity Welcome to our Future, its goal is to become self-funding and self-sustaining over the long term.

There is a huge shortage of available and affordable community housing in the United Kingdom, and it is often of the wrong type for new buyers, young families or those who are downsizing. The Government is taking a huge range of steps to encourage more house building, to support more social housing, and to protect tenancies.

The Community Housing Fund is thus part of a wider strategy by the Government to boost home ownership. The purpose of the Fund is not merely to support the construction of many thousands of affordable new homes, but to involve the talents and energies of local communities, and raise design and construction standards at the same time.

The importance of Community Land Trusts is that they enable local groups to build local housing for local people. They are essentially social enterprises, democratically controlled by members who are also shareholders. Any profits made by a Trust must be invested to further benefit the community’s interests.

People who benefit most from CLT’s are those currently priced out of the local market, as the projects are tailored to meet their specific needs. However the positive benefits of CLTs stretch much further into the wider community.

Community groups are able to use their own local knowledge and networks to identify empty street properties, mobilise local stakeholders, provide people who need them with the skills to renovate these properties and effectively supply new affordable housing.

Creative approaches allow the use of land that might otherwise not get planning permission for bigger projects. The outcome of this is to stimulate investment, often turning neighbourhoods around.

HCCLH will be providing important early steps for helping Herefordians onto the property ladder. In creating local housing, the purpose of HCCLH is also to create new social value by bringing people together and mobilising their talents and skills in a common purpose. It deserves all our support.