Encourage Housing Co-operatives
Housing Co-operatives are schemes that provide social housing at a much reduced cost by making co-op members collectively responsible for their own repairs and upkeep.
Housing co-operatives provide cost-effective mass social housing by giving resident co-op members collective control over the management of their homes. Under this scheme, residents are responsible for voting to set rent levels which are used to pay for the upkeep of the homes and the co-op’s other expenses. While homes would still have to comply with minimum standards, residents have a direct incentive to keep costs down, for example by doing minor maintenance on a voluntary basis.
There could be three sources of housing for the establishment of housing co-operatives:
Lease or transfer of existing social/affordable tenancies
Renovation of ‘void’ derelict/disused housing
New build housing is the most straightforward but requires sustainable funding structures to support new co-ops until they are large enough to fund their own expansion.
Existing communities should also be able to convert themselves into co-operatives much as they can currently elect to transfer into Housing Association ownership. Resident co-operatives could also take over the running of communities through lease or local management agreements with local councils.
The third option, and the one I have most experience in Lambeth, is where a housing co-operative takes on derelict council owned homes and renovates them with the support of the local council. This is much like the original intention behind ‘Shortlife’ co-ops back in the 1970s (though for obvious reasons it would not be called ‘Shortlife’). Homes that need renovation are allocated to a co-op which will then be brought back up to standard by the co-op’s membership and used to house people from the council’s own waiting list.
These homes could either be returned to council management after a fixed period (for example, five years) with the tenants receiving a full council tenancy or retained by the co-op who would use rental income to fund further renovations.
The main benefits of housing co-ops are:
Residents have a direct incentive to keep upkeep costs as low as possible, as this will allow them to benefit from low rents. This often means that where the appropriate skills exist within the co-op work will be done on a voluntary or non-profit basis.
In a similar vein; co-ops can offer unemployed residents who are able to work the opportunity to volunteer for the benefit of their community, giving them a sense of purpose and helping them get back into paid employment.
Residents have a direct incentive to improve the quality of their housing, as they have to live with the consequences.
Housing co-operatives encourage stronger communities as residents have to work together to run their co-op community effectively. This can bring wider benefits such as a reduced reliance on social care services as neighbours are more willing to provide assistance to each other.
Housing co-operatives are widespread in many other parts of the world including the Americas and Scandinavia. Here residents are responsible for electing an Executive Committee to manage the day-to-day work of the co-op, setting rent levels (including dispensations for the vulnerable and less well-off), approving major works and items of expense and approving the co-op’s audited accounts.
Currently the main obstacles to the widespread establishment of housing co-operatives in the United Kingdom are:
Poor public awareness of housing co-ops, as opposed to rent or ownership.
As a result of the above, many people would not know where to seek advice in how to establish a co-operative.
The lack of sustainable start-up funding.
Changes to housing law made during the 1980s which removed special provisions and protections for housing co-operatives.
For more information please see www.lambethunitedhousingco-op.org.uk.