Ed Mayo, Secretary General of Cooperatives UK, launches ‘More than Markets’ at the Library of Birmingham with Mike Pritty, Chair of Matrix (right) with Abi Robson, Chair of Trident HA (middle)
Mutualism offers an alternative future vision for social housing concludes a new report from Birmingham think tank the Human City Institute. The report, ‘More than Markets: Mutual and Co-operative Housing in the UK’, published in the wake of Co-operatives Fortnight and the social housing conference season, recommends a mutual future for social housing in the face of marketization of social housing over the last twenty-five years, and creeping commercialisation today. The approach would put tenants and communities at the heart of social housing and import much-needed democracy into social housing governance.
‘More than Markets’ argues that marketization and commercialisation are changing the nature of ‘social’ goods and services provided by social landlords. A provider-consumer approach is now pervasive and held to be the height of efficiency whereas HCI’s report shows that co-operative housing has higher levels of housing management performance and is more effective in building social capital.
The report tracks how mutual housing in the UK has evolved for more than 150 years through a series of ‘waves’ of formation from co-partnership and co-ownership schemes through tenant management organisations and community mutuals and gateways to today’s co-housing projects and community land trusts. Stock transfer from local authorities to mutual recipients, as in Rochdale and Liverpool, and across Wales, is a growing element.
Yet, the report concludes, the mutual housing sector remains only a small part of the UK housing scene with about 1,000 organisations managing 200,000 homes representing less than 1 per cent of total housing. Despite this, the report records how mutual housing in the UK is a vibrant and diverse sector that is growing in numerical terms and through emerging and diverse mutual models of development and management, with an annual turnover in excess of £500m. The report recommends:
·Extending the UK’s 1 per cent co-operative housing up to European Union norms of 5 to 15 per cent with at least 500,000 social homes moved into co-operative ownership over the coming decade.
·Creating a Tenants Mutual Finance Initiative operating in similar ways to the Children's Mutual, providing savings and borrowing opportunities for tenants. The Tenants Mutual would not only enable expansion of co-operative approaches in social housing but would fund new affordable housing development and aid renewal of community infrastructure, while providing tenants with affordable credit opportunities.
·Developing a new form of ‘co-operative tenancy’ to replace the current provider-consumer relationship between social landlords and tenants.
One of the report’s authors Dr Chris Handy, Head of the Matrix Housing Partnership, which supported HCI’s research, said:“The good news is that we have seen more interest in co-operative and mutual housing in the UK than at any period since the 1970s. Politicians of all hues are supporting the sector. Our report shows that this confidence is well placed since research illustrates that mutual housing organisations can be more efficient than equivalent social landlords, that co-operating in housing management improves the well-being of tenant co-operators through what we term the ‘asset effect’, that co-operators make better citizens and that co-operation fosters actions that further environmental sustainability.”
“There are numerous examples in social housing of supporting mutualism to grow. The Matrix Housing Partnership includes Birmingham Co-operative Housing Services, which has developed more than 50 housing co-operatives and projects since 1997, and WATMOS Community Homes, which is an alliance of tenant management organisations in Walsall and Lambeth. However, mutual housing options are under-developed in mainstream social housing and need to be promoted as an alternative to marketization for social landlords and their tenants.”
HCI’s report finds that the mosaic of innovation is also leading to more concerted and ambitious action for mutual housing. The representative bodies - the Confederation of Co-operative Housing, the Community Land Trust Network, the Cohousing Network, the National Self-Build Association and others - are working together through the new Mutual Housing Group in partnership with decision-makers to help develop a viable overall ‘movement’ with the support of Co-operatives UK.
Ed Mayo, Secretary General of Co-operatives UK, who wrote the Foreword to the report said:
“With interest in co-operative solutions on the rise, I welcome the contribution to the debate made by HCI’s ‘More than Markets’ report. The report, for the first time, brings together a comprehensive portrait of the shape of the mutual housing sector in all its diversity and geographical spread.”
“The report concludes, however, that despite growing support for mutualism, housing co-operatives are under-developed in the UK in international comparison. So I welcome the report’s recommendations to expand mutualism within social housing to give tenants a greater say in how their homes and communities are managed. The report’s recommendation to create a national Tenants Mutual is also imaginative, helping to tackle financial exclusion in social housing and to fund investment in new affordable housing and community infrastructure generally and to promote co-operative development specifically.”