by: Levent Kerimol
With growing interest in Community Led Housing (CLH), councils and public authorities are making land and opportunities available. Sometimes they have entered direct arrangements with a single CLH organisation, some have decided to run selection processes for CLH groups.
But which approach is best? The public sector tends to opt for a selection process, whilst for many groups, the idea of competing for land against one another seems contrary to the spirit of community led housing.
Characterisations of “the community” as a singular entity, ignore the fact that we are all part of a series of complex and overlapping communities. Communities may be geographic, intentional or demographic, cutting across borough boundaries. Even geographical areas may overlap at different scales. Community Led Housing involves a participatory choice to devote time and effort to a housing organisation, and people may be members of either one, several or no CLH organisations.
This makes it difficult to prescribe a clear route, and instead requires a common sense and nuanced approach.
At Marklake Court in Bermondsey, the site was identified by residents and Leathermarket JMB, the estate’s Tenants’ Management Organisation (TMO). Southwark Council made it available without a selection process, as the TMO has a local and clearly defined geography and are already accountable to residents. It would have been non-sensical to advertise the site to other CLH organisations.
It is a similar story for Neighbourhood Forums, their geographic boundaries are evaluated and assessed by the local authority. Sometimes they are asked to work with others in the area, or their boundaries separated, to ensure there is a clear singular community arrangement. There have been several natural progressions for effective and inclusive Neighbourhood Forums to move onto housing delivery, and here again, it doesn’t seem sensible to select other communities.
Then there are CLH organisations, such as the St Ann’s Redevelopment Trust, that exist entirely around a single identified site. These organisations are very local and geographic in character and not interested in other sites. They typically identify the site that is of particular interest and seek partnership with public bodies. The specificity of these cases can mean light touch sifting and dialogue may be more appropriate.
It is of course prudent for public bodies to ensure the organisation has the capability and credibility to deliver what is required, but this can be done without the pretence of a selection process, by drawing on support from CLH London and others.
In many other cases, sites are outside the local geographic area of an interested CLH group, and a selection process is sensible. With enough notice, soft market testing, or consultation, it may also be a way of ensuring any latent local desires to start a CLH organisation are explored.
Selection processes should be focused and proportionate, and clearly define the terms and what public bodies are looking for, appreciating the effort required by people. The GLA’s Small Sites x Small Builders programme offers a simple process with standardised terms and delivery controls, which can be focused specifically to support the emerging sector and delivery model. Both TfL and Croydon Council have used this approach recently meaning start-up groups with relatively little access to capital in the early stages, are not competing against more established developers.
Similarly, CLH groups don’t need to feel daunted by the idea of “bidding for sites”. After all, it is not unusual to have application processes for other limited resources such as funding or bank loans. It is all part of the learning required to build and manage housing. The process can bring some discipline and resolution to ideas, and even groups who miss out can come back better prepared for future opportunities.
Although the word “bidding” appears to place an emphasis on financial offers, it is more than likely public bodies and even private landowners will have a range of aspirations from a process, including the credibility and likelihood of delivery, as well as affordability, sustainability and other social value.
photo: © StART are deeply connected to the site, regularly going out to sketch and paint its many trees