A look back at 2019

Post election, the reality of a Conservative majority still leaves many questions on the future of housing unanswered…

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…but this edition of the magazine leaves the election hype behind and looks back at how 2019 really fared.

January: Recovery and growth – Nigel Wilson, CEO, Gentoo Group

The past 12 months have been particularly eventful here at Gentoo.

Following the announcement of our regulatory downgrade in spring 2017, much of our work has been to restore our G2 governance rating with the Regulator of Social Housing.

When I joined in January, the atmosphere in the business was far more sombre than you’d expect from a community-based, values-driven organisation like Gentoo.

I knew then I had work to do.

I started by meeting every single employee, all 1,106 of them, in my first three months, opening an honest two-way dialogue.

This was followed by a business-wide culture survey which, despite recent events, highlighted some strong anchor points: 85% of colleagues would recommend Gentoo as an employer; 93% said their immediate teams worked well together.

We next established a colleague-led Employee Forum to give colleagues the chance to influence the future direction of the business.

Then, mid-year, we launched our apprenticeship recruitment scheme and received over 1,150 applications for the 16 available posts.

By July, we were delighted to announce we had been awarded a Gold accreditation from Investors in People and a Living Wage Employer status.

Then finishing the year on a high, we hosted the first of our new colleague recognition awards which were nominated, judged, and decided by colleagues.

We also recognised the loyalty of colleagues by launching a newly improved long-service recognition method.

An eventful year, for sure. But a good one, too.

In case you missed it: Shelter’s Social Housing Commission – Polly Neate, CEO, Shelter

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After the horrific Grenfell Tower fire, we brought together 16 experts with diverse backgrounds and political views to form a social housing commission.

In January, following a year-long process, we published the final report in which every commissioner agreed that only an ambitious renewal of social housebuilding could end the crisis.

Ever since that landmark report was splashed across the news, there’s been a welcome shift in rhetoric and a groundswell of political support.

This was the year Theresa May promised “a once-in-a-generation package of reforms and support for social housing”, and Labour and the Liberal Democrats both committed to increasing the number of social homes.

In April, the government shifted its focus to renters and said it would end unfair Section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions – a terrific commitment, but the necessary legislation is yet to materialise.

Otherwise all we’ve had in recent months are a couple of small tweaks to Shared Ownership, an already unaffordable product.

We know strong public support exists for both social housing and renters’ rights.

Over 70% of private renters  (that’s 3.3 million people) think scrapping ‘no fault’ evictions should be a priority. And a whopping 77% of the British public support building more social homes in the UK.

With their support, we will kickstart homes we need.

FebruaryAdjusting for change – James Prestwich, Head of Policy, National Housing Federation

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In February, the government confirmed housing associations will soon be able to increase rents in line with the Consumer Price Index of inflation (CPI), plus an additional 1%.

This is set to come into effect at the start of the 2020/21 financial year.

We understand residents will be concerned that their rent could be going up – especially as rents have been falling for the last four years.

But many associations are already putting in place plans to properly manage this change.

Many are also working to reassure those who receive housing benefit that their benefits will also increase to cover the cost.

Support for residents, especially the 40% or so who don’t receive full housing benefit, will form a key part of associations’ approach to implementing the new settlement.

This change will allow associations to do even more of the things that tenants really value.

It will allow them to build new social housing so that more people find a way out of the housing crisis, and it will help to keep associations on a stable financial footing.

After years of falling rents hitting the sector’s income, this announcement was a welcome step from the government.

Now, the focus is moving on to engaging with residents and working with them to plan for change.

In case you missed it: FOI set free – Sally Thomas, CEO, Scottish Federation of Housing Associations

Since learning that the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA) would be extended to Registered Social Landlords (RSLs) and some of their subsidiaries, we have worked with our members in order to help them to prepare for the changes.

We held a series of training events, in conjunction with the Scottish Information Commissioner, and produced a comprehensive suite of guidance, including providing a free legal advice helpline, exclusively for SFHA members.

Throughout this time, our members have shown dedication and commitment by putting in place robust systems to embrace the change.

We will continue to support them now the legislation has officially come into effect.

Throughout the first year, we will monitor how implementation is working in practice and review whether there is any further guidance our members require.

Our sector is open, transparent, and already subject to extensive regulation through the Scottish Housing Regulator and others.

Scottish RSLs have a proven track record of responding to queries and proactively providing information to tenants.

FOISA goes hand in hand with this existing culture, and, as such, I am confident that our members are in a strong position to meet the new requirements.

March: Showing we care – Michael Vogues, Executive Director, ARCO

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In 2019, the housing-with-care sector continued to establish itself as a critical part of the health, social care, and housing landscape in the UK.

There were new entrants with a clear focus on long-term, sustainable business models – mainly using a private-payer ‘for sale’ model – but private-rented options are on the rise.

Councils continue to show interest in the extra-care market for affordable rent, though pressures on revenue funding means general-needs housing associations are retreating from this market in favour of a smaller number of specialists.

The current pipeline of new supply will see the number of new units per year treble between 2019 and 2024.

While this is encouraging, it is nowhere near enough to address the increasingly large cohorts of baby boomers that will start entering schemes in their late seventies.

2019 also saw the continued increase in support from the from policymakers, with the care minister, Caroline Dinenage, and the then housing minister, Kit Malthouse, publicly stating the Department of Health and Social Care’s commitment to expanding the housing-with-care sector at ARCO’s conference in July.

Unlike countries with mature housing-with-care markets, the UK lacks a specific legal framework governing the planning, building, selling, and operating of retirement communities.

The sector is taking steps to address these issues, and with ARCO investing an additional £1.5m over the next three years, we’re glad to be doing our bit.

In case you missed itThe end of Right To Buy – Melanie Rees, Head of Policy and External Affairs, Chartered Institute of Housing

Next year marks the 40th anniversary of the Right To Buy scheme.

Since it was introduced, we’ve sold almost two million of our most desirable social-rented homes. Most have never been replaced.

In 2017/18, 16,056 council and housing association homes were sold under the scheme, with just 4,961 homes at social rent built.

And the latest figures show that only 4,783 new homes were added in 2018/19. We’re just not keeping pace.

The housing market has changed massively since 1980, and renting or buying an affordable home is beyond the reach of many.

We now have 8.4 million people in England living in unaffordable, insecure, unsuitable homes.

At a time when we need them most, can we justify selling off such precious social assets when we know they won’t be replaced?

We’ve seen the governments in Scotland and Wales end the Right To Buy. It’s now time that we too take steps to stem the flow of our most affordable homes.

AprilThe reality of ending homelessness – Charlotte Morgan, Senior Policy Researcher, New Local Government Network

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The Homelessness Reduction Act (HRA) places a legal duty on councils in England to prevent and relieve homelessness for all eligible people, not just those in ‘priority need’.

Yet, over a year after the Act came into effect, there are growing concerns over whether councils have the funding they need to fulfil the duty and what the implications will be for achieving the UK government’s target to eradicate rough sleeping by 2027.

The UK government provided councils with £72.7m in ‘new burdens funding’ to enable them to take on the additional work required by the HRA.

However, NLGN’s Leadership Index survey revealed two-thirds (66.5%) of council leaders, mayors, and chief executives in England disagree or strongly disagree they have enough funding to carry out their new duty.

Nonetheless, there remains optimism from some council leaders and chief executives that they can achieve the government’s targets on ending rough sleeping. 58.1% of those who responded to NLGN’s survey think it likely or very likely that their council will halve rough sleeping in their area by 2022; 40.4% expressed confidence they will be able to eradicate rough sleeping completely by 2027.

As Brexit preparations place council budgets under strain, leaders and chief executives will look to the next government to provide the additional funding they believe necessary for councils to prevent homelessness.

In case you missed it: The Importance of tenant engagement – Victoria Dingle, Social Housing Tenant

In 2010, the National Tenants Voice (NTV) was set up as an organisation for tenants of housing associations, housing co-ops, and local authorities within England.

The aim was to give tenants a voice and place at a national level to share expertise and help shape the future. The organisation didn’t even meet its first-year anniversary.

So, what has the government done since?

When Theresa May spoke at NHF Summit in 2018, she said she had made it her personal mission to fix the country’s broken housing system.

I have researched what has been happening during the past year, but it appears tenant engagement is not on the government’s main agenda.

Even A Voice For Tenants (AF4T) is finding it hard to progress.

Tpas (Tenant participation advisory service) continues to represent the views of tenants by bringing tenants, landlords, and contractors together. It supports over 200 housing associations… but what about non-members?

For tenants who live in homes that have housing associations that engage with them, I hope this continues. But it shouldn’t be a choice; it should be what happens in all associations.

When will the government realise action regarding social housing is required, not just empty promises?

MayMental health and housing – Andrew van Doorn, Chief Executive, HACT

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It’s been an important year for mental health and housing in regard to strategy, resources, and practicality.

Strategically, the publication of the NHS long-term plan shone a light on mental health.

For the first time, the NHS plan recognised that health inequalities and mental wellbeing are important and that there are a whole range of factors that contribute to poor mental health, including housing and the environment.

On the back of that, there is now a commitment within the long-term plan for a reinvestment in mental health, as well as a recognition that there has been a lack of resources flowing into mental health from the NHS.

Finally, resources have now started to flow from the MHCLG rough-sleeping team into addressing health.

A significant proportion of this is going to boost mental health services on the street and improve access to acute mental health care.

So, the strategic framework has been set, the resources have been identified and are beginning to flow, and there is a good focus on housing and homelessness as key issues in improving mental health.

We are, though, yet to see what that means in reality.

So, although this year has seen improvements in mental health within housing and the groundwork laid for housing’s relationship with the health sector, the challenge will be for housing to build on these foundations and grasp the opportunities in wait.

With any luck, it will.

In case you missed it: No Woman turned away – Adina Claire, Acting Co-Chief Executive, Women’s Aid

Domestic abuse leaves women and children at risk of homelessness when they are at their most vulnerable.

In 2018-19 we supported 309 women: 136 sofa-surfed, 42 stayed in local authority emergency accommodation, 22 slept rough and 12 stayed in a B&B, hostel or hotel.

Five women slept rough with their children, and one woman slept rough while she was pregnant.

Many women reported experiencing suicidal thoughts. More than 10% of them went back to their perpetrator to avoid homelessness.

Refuges help, but they can’t solve the issue alone. Refuges are intended to provide short-term emergency accommodation for women and children in crisis; they are not a long-term solution.

To move on from their stay at a refuge, women and children need appropriate long-term housing options.

All survivors of domestic abuse should be considered ‘priority need’ for local authority housing.

Local authorities have typically required survivors to demonstrate additional vulnerabilities, such as dependent children or a disability, in order to be considered ‘priority need’.

Yet, the under the Housing Act (1996) and the Homelessness Act (2002), fleeing domestic abuse is clearly classified as a ‘vulnerability’.

We’d like to see local authorities applying this test properly.

And for those survivors seeking private rented accommodation, we’d like to see affordable rental options that meet basic health and safety standards. Doing so can help put an end to domestic abuse for good.

JuneWhat’s wrong with Right To Rent – David Smith, Policy Director, Residential Landlords Association

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It is right that the government ensures UK immigration law is complied with.

It should not, however, encourage risky vigilante justice by asking landlords to act as untrained border police. Yet, this is precisely what ministers are doing with the Right To Rent.

Under the scheme, landlords are responsible for checking the immigration status of their tenants with the prospect of prosecution if they know or have “reasonable cause to believe” that the property they are letting is occupied by someone who does not have the right to rent in the UK.

Unsurprisingly, research by the RLA and the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants has found the threat of prosecution has led many landlords to play it safe, only renting to those with a UK passport.

Earlier this year, the High Court ruled the scheme “does not merely provide the occasion or opportunity for private landlords to discriminate but causes them to do so where otherwise they would not”. It added that such discrimination was “logical and wholly predicable”.

While the Home Office has now commissioned research to evaluate the scheme, one glance at the evidence provided to the High Court and the court’s ruling itself says everything that is needed.

The Right To Rent does not work. The government should stop wasting money trying to defend the policy and scrap it altogether.

In case you missed it: Spotlighting shared ownership – Amy Nettleton, Assistant Development Director of Sales and Marketing, Aster Group

Outside the Westminster bubble, the Help To Buy deadline looms, and the pressure to find an alternative to help first-time buyers onto the housing ladder intensifies.

I have been saying for a long time that the government – whichever party is in charge – need not reinvent the wheel.

Shared ownership has already proven itself a viable option for those looking to get onto the housing ladder.

For those wanting to eventually own their house outright, shared ownership removes the need to find a hefty deposit.

Meanwhile, many politicians rightly fret about the relative insecurity offered by parts of the private-rent market.

Here, shared ownership offers security of tenure. Not everyone wants to buy outright, but everybody wants to know they are secure in their home.

According to Savills, demand for shared ownership could rise by more than 15,000 households a year in the post Help To Buy era. With 200,000 shared ownership households in the UK, new supply will need to increase by over 150 % to fill the gap.

The demand is there, but so is the solution. As the 2023 Help To Buy deadline approaches, we must better promote shared ownership as a model that works – and has done so for over 30 years.

JulyMay’s housing legacy – Paul Hackett, Chief Executive, Optivo 

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While posterity will remember Theresa May primarily for her failure on Brexit, she will be less well remembered for her work on housing. That’s a shame.

The Cameron administration prioritised home ownership to an extent that saw social-rented homes deleted from national planning policy and cut from government funding programmes.

Who can forget the Budget in 2015, the first since the Second World War to include no funding for general-needs rented homes?

But to misquote Margaret Thatcher, May showed the lady was for turning. Lord Best counted 24 reversals of Cameron’s housing policy by May, including many of the most damaging aspects of the Housing and Planning Act.

But May also took new, positive steps. Councils were given the borrowing freedom they’d long campaigned for, and associations were offered long-term funding for the first time.

We saw a White Paper that acknowledged there was a housing crisis the government should tackle and a Green Paper that acknowledged the depth of stigma our tenants can face.

And senior advisers who understood housing were brought into Number 10.

My main regret about May’s housing approach was that, while the need for higher grant rates was accepted, we didn’t see a significant shift.

With the cross-subsidy model under extreme pressure, we need the next administration to take clear steps to ensure affordable housing has the financial support it really needs.

In case you missed itAnother year, another minister – Sinéad Butters, Chief Executive, Aspire Housing

Another year, another housing minister, another madcap housing policy, another Brexit deadline, another general election. The makers of Groundhog Day could go to town on this.

I do believe things can get better. I am a natural optimist and can often see both sides of the problem.

The trouble is I have stopped looking. Instead, I am focussing on what I can do: running Aspire, can setting our People First strategy, and supporting colleagues to deliver great services.

We can be honest with our tenants, open ourselves up to scrutiny, and build more homes. We can support people into work and invest in fragile communities. We can provide wellbeing services to help those in debt and those with addiction and mental health issues.

And, through our charity, we can help tackle isolation and support independence.

All this and we are a housing association. You know, others may not to value the full range of things we do, but that will not stop us.

We as PlaceShapers shape ourselves around the communities we serve.

This is who we are.

When all the dust is settled, we will still be doing all this, long after Brexit has succeeded or failed, dealing with the latest government and the latest housing minister with a wry smile.

We have seen it all before. And we are still here doing what we believe matters.

August: The rise of offsite construction – Alan Yates, Deputy Chief Executive, Accord Housing Association

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The Farmer Review was a stark warning to the housing sector about the risk of continuing to build homes in the way that we have been for decades.

The combination of the need to increase the level of housebuilding to 300,000 per annum to meet housing need, coupled with a shortage of skilled labour, exacerbated by the departure of foreign nationals and an ageing workforce that is not being replaced, is something that cannot be ignored – and the impact is already being felt.

The need to move to an alternative way of producing homes is nothing new, with the Egan Report, Rethinking Construction, published in 1998 outlining how the construction industry should look to the manufacturing industry to deliver efficiencies.

But it was the Farmer Review that finally triggered the momentum required to change the way that we deliver new homes.

Early adopters are now being followed by others commissioning projects incorporating Modern Methods of Construction (MMC).

Every developing housing association in the country should be actively considering the move to MMC in order to reduce their exposure to the risks of not doing so.

It’s right that the growth of MMC should be progressive and sustainable, and we should be wary of new manufacturers who enter the market with poor products and who may not last the distance.

But the offsite manufacturing sector will only grow if housing associations commission projects using MMC.

We have a collective responsibility to support its growth – it’s in our interest to do so.

In case you missed itCreating great places  Angela Lockwood, CEO, North Star Housing Group

The Great Places Commission was a first for the NHF.

12 commissioners spent over a year looking at what makes a place great, and during this time we heard from academics, local government, the private and voluntary sector, politicians, and residents. We visited towns and cities, walked the areas, and saw what did and didn’t work.

There were some great examples of success. The Eldonians in Liverpool, where tenants run their expansive housing stock. A good railway station with more train stops would massively the regeneration of Dewsbury. Significant public sector investment in Middlesbrough to bring about sustainable change in some neighbourhoods.

In every area, we met residents involved in their communities, which reaffirmed the importance of people and how a group with a strong purpose can really bring about change.

The role of housing associations was critical in some areas, where they act as main or supporting anchors doing great things for social good rather than profitable gain. Their creativity, ability to create exciting partnerships, and invest can make the difference.

But the commission thought there was more to be done. Housing associations need to share more, commit even further to cross-sector partnerships in each local area and to asset-based community development, and to review their approach to property sales and transfers.

We need to press on and drive the change these communities and neighbourhoods deserve.

SeptemberTaking the Young Leaders crown – Shauna Hutchinson, Young Leaders 2019 Winner

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Young Leaders 2019 winner Shauna Hutchinson

Perched on the edge of my seat listening to my fellow finalists, I was already proud to be in such good company.

I remember being at the back of the conference hall, prepared to celebrate one of the other finalists’ win because what I had to say wasn’t revolutionary, and whoever won was worthy for a platform to make a change.

Hearing Kate say the first line of my presentation, ‘Trust is a basic human need,’ I was elated.

It’s still strange to receive recognition for simply doing something I love, and the support from colleagues and other housing professionals to push myself to do more is second to none.

Like many housing professionals, I fell into the housing sector and quickly fell in love with knowing I was helping people just like me.

Living in social housing my whole life and now being able to support people in their day-to-day lives to thrive gives me great satisfaction in knowing I overcame a ridiculous stereotype of what being a social-housing resident looks like.

An accolade of this magnitude has spurred me to keep finding ways to support residents and empower colleagues to be confident in their own skin and push boundaries with their ideas.

It’s important to be passionate about what you do because you will attract likeminded people who can, and will, make positive change.

In case you missed itGrasping the fire-safety opportunity – Stephen MacKenzie, Independent Fire Safety Expert

The sad fact is we have fires almost every second of every day somewhere across the globe.

This year in the UK we have seen terrible fires in Barking and Bolton, to name just two.

But this year has also seen the release of the Grenfell Inquiry Phase One report, which concluded that the tower was too dangerous to live in and that there should be new legal duties for providers, including checking on fire doors and keeping updated building plans.

But what other trends have we seen is that if there is a hazard, housing providers are struggling with bandwidth and resource and very demanding day jobs – not allowing them to remedy problems.

We are seeing with high rises now that what was deemed to satisfy standards at the time of construction is no longer applicable.

Meaning that most towers in the UK now need extensive fire safety improvements across the board. Who will foot the bill for this?

Interestingly, MHCLG has refused to use the phrase product recall and haven’t challenged impacted manufacturers.

We need to move away from the traditional and ineffective Grenfell response that we have become used to and move toward a dynamic fire risk response, which includes all stakeholders and independent experts.

What we are proposing is experts coming together to form an independent fire think tank. This would be a knowledge-based network on the issues and the solutions to the cladding and fire safety crisis in the UK.

The sector got lucky at Bolton that there were not deaths. We must take the opportunity to make a change so that another disaster doesn’t happen again.

October: End the freeze, thaw poverty – Helen Barnard, Deputy Director of Policy and Partnerships, Joseph Rowntree Foundation

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We have all seen prices rise in the shops in recent years.

Our social security system is supposed to act as an anchor when we find ourselves in tough times, buffeted by high rents, illness, and other currents which can make it hard to keep steady.

But since 2016, most working age benefits and tax credits have been frozen, leaving millions on low incomes pulled deeper into poverty.

The benefits freeze has been the single biggest factor causing the rising tide of poverty in recent years – dragging 400,000 more people into poverty.

It has left low-income families on average £560 worse off – the equivalent to three months of grocery shopping.

In the midst of political and economic uncertainty, families struggling to keep afloat know that the coming year will be hard to get through.

In a society based on compassion and justice, it’s just not right to leave people with no leeway in their finances to face the risks of economic uncertainty without the support on which all of us should be able to rely.

The government must commit to raising all benefits and tax credits at least in line with inflation, when the current freeze is scheduled to end next year. Only then can we begin to thaw the country’s growing poverty problem.

In case you missed it: A year in regulation

Latest quarterly survey figures:

  • Sector has access to £21.6bn of undrawn facilities
  • 5% decrease in unsold Affordable Home Ownership units
  • Margins on AHO sales averaged 23.3% in the quarter, the lowest rate achieved in the last three years
  • In the 12 months to September 2020, the sector is forecasting £5.5bn worth of current-asset sales and £1.7bn of fixed-asset sales

The Regulator of Social Housing was once again on hand to ensure the sector did not fall foul of its requirements.

There was a heavier focus on the Homes Standard, with several organisations coming under review for failures such as those around gas or electrical safety.

The Regulator has urged housing associations to be transparent, helping to work through problems instead of hiding them away.

There has also been a heavy push toward the consumer standards, set to be introduced next year. Much of the Regulator’s presence at conferences has focussed on this issue, with associations coming to terms with what the standards might mean for them.

The regulator has also issued a vote of confidence in the future of the sector, which remains “financially strong”, despite continued exposure to market sales.

NovemberThe Universal Credit problem – Will Atkinson, Policy and External Affairs Manager, Community Housing Cymru

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Earlier this year, we launched the latest iteration of our joint campaign, the Six Asks, with our sister housing federations.

We have made progress, securing a proposed end to the benefit freeze and making improvements to the operation of Universal Credit (UC) for housing associations.

But significant issues with UC remain, including the initial five-week wait for payment.

There are now around 125,000 UC claimants in Wales, 25% of the estimated total of half a million expected to be claiming UC at the end of the rollout process in 2023.

To support our work and our member housing associations, CHC has monitored the impact of Universal Credit on housing associations and their tenants since its inception. Most recently, we commissioned an in depth 18-month impact study.

The report shows that the anticipated impact of UC on rent arrears has occurred and has not yet improved significantly following improvements to the system.

84% of tenants claiming UC owe rent to their housing association, owing more than double the amount of rent compared with those claiming Housing Benefit. It is difficult not to attribute some of the rise in arrears to the initial five-week wait for UC.

We are calling on the next UK government to recognise the impact Universal Credit has had by ending the five-week wait and delivering a first payment within days rather than months.

In case you missed it: Nic Bliss, Head of Policy, Confederation of Co-Operative Housing – Community-led housing for all

An 11-flat development in Birmingham doesn’t sound like a big deal.

But for us, our potential scheme on Birmingham city council land that has long been derelict is a small but exciting opportunity for us to contribute to the growing community-led housing movement.

Across the country, community-led housing hubs are being established to support developments – bringing communities, local authorities, and housing associations together.

For many local authorities, it is now how to develop a community-led housing strategy to respond to their communities, rather than whether to have one.

With a goal to achieve sustainability in three to five years, the movement’s development is partially dependent on ongoing support from the Community Housing Fund.

The hopes and dreams of many communities will sit in the in-tray of whoever becomes housing minister post election.

But schemes such as the 479-home Möckernkiez in Berlin or the 370-home Mehr Als Wohnen in Zürich show what can be achieved. Funded partly through individual equity and partly through subsidy, these are ‘go to’ housing solutions that offer community-led housing options for all.

Community-led housing offers a different option from the current limited choices. Our aim is that it becomes a realistic and attractive option available to anyone on the high street.

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