Opinion: Mutualising social housing
Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Housing
Birmingham City Council teams up with HSE to prevent chimney collapses
By Dr Chris Handy, chair Matrix Housing Partnership Strategy Committee
In a new report published by the Human City Institute, we argue that mutualism offers an alternative future vision for social housing. ‘More than Markets: Mutual and Co-operative Housing in the UK’ charts how marketization of social housing is changing the nature of the sector whereas a mutual future could enable social housing to flourish with residents and communities at the centre of development and management.
In the report we illustrate that the evolving provider-consumer approach pervasive in social housing, and held to be the height of efficiency, lags behind the housing management performance and tenant satisfaction in mutual housing, which is also more successful in building social capital. So it is a puzzle that mutual housing in the UK is only 1% of the total - just under 200,000 homes - compared to European Union norms of 5 to 15%. And that mutual housing is not held up more prominently as the way forward for social housing given support for mutual approaches from all political parties.
Despite the lack of numbers our research has discovered that mutual housing in the UK is a vibrant and diverse sector, growing in numerical terms and through diverse models of development and management. We track how mutual housing has evolved over the last 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, as in Rochdale and Liverpool, to new mutual organisations is a growing element.
Our report finds more positive evidence for 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. Wales and Scotland are leading the way in promoting mutualism through devolved government.
There are growing numbers of examples of successful mutualism within social housing organisations too. 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 social housing and need to be promoted as an alternative to marketization for social landlords and their tenants.
Since mutual values offer much to the economy, society, communities and housing, we recommend that social landlords need to import mutual values into their organisations more actively. There is considerable scope for extending mutualism in this way: Social housing comprises 4.6 million homes with an estimated asset value of £120 billion and an annual turnover of £35 million. Enabling transfer of management of some of these housing assets could make a real difference to local communities in terms of economic viability, creation of social capital and enhancement of well-being and life chances.
There are a number of models to choose from including tenant management organisations, which are massively under-represented in the housing association sector. All social landlords could be required by regulators to adopt community gateway principles, development in Preston and elsewhere, whereby flexibility of involvement allows all residents to become members and to determine their level of involvement at their own pace through a range of localised participative vehicles within the overall social landlord governance structure. Introduction of a ‘co-operative tenancy’ might support this shift.
There is already an infrastructure within social housing to devolve control of existing housing to tenants and communities, and to provide new co-operative and mutual housing through innovative finance packages; not expensive in the scheme of things but requiring a deep-seated reorganisation of the way in which we manage housing assets and how services are delivered.
Mutual housing provides considerable advantages to social housing in terms of improved cost-effectiveness, value for money and creation of social value. Now is the time for its extension across the UK so that co-operative options are available to all tenants and communities.
READ NEXT »