Ireland must fully embrace community-managed housing
The Deferred Housing for All Strategy is meant to guide the next nine years of housing policy in Ireland. If it does not place a strong emphasis on community-led housing, it will be a tragically missed opportunity.
Community-led housing is an umbrella term for approaches where groups not only have a high level of involvement and control over what is built, but also have the continuing responsibility of managing their own community. These are people living together in affordable housing integrated into sustainable communities.
Cloughjordan EcoVillage in Tipperary is one of the best known Irish examples, along with Kildorrery in Cork.
Community-led housing groups often work with organizations such as the Ã Cualann Cohousing Alliance, whose mission is to âBuild Communities, Not Just Housesâ. Community managed housing was first mentioned in Irish law in the Affordable Housing Act this month, in a brief clause that requires housing authorities to make “agreements with a managed housing organization. by the community, a housing cooperative or a land trust community â.
It’s a start, but doomed to failure unless the infrastructure follows suit. Local authorities have struggled to engage with community groups because there was no clear framework to date.
Self-Organized Architecture is an Irish non-profit think tank that has conducted research on community managed housing. Earlier this year, he launched a major research, Roadmapping a Viable Community-Led Housing Sector for Ireland.
The research examines eight Irish projects and numerous European examples, notably in the UK, Germany and Belgium, and sets out a number of roadmaps for Ireland.
For example, the state of Berlin decided that state-owned land would be transferred via long-term lease at a fixed price rather than on the basis of the highest possible price, barring exceptional circumstances.
When community groups bid on land, the successful bidder must demonstrate not only how it meets local housing needs, but also provides the most social value i.e. the most positive impact on the society. Social value tends to focus on multigenerational life, social mix, art and culture, and sustainability. Germany provides very low interest loans from the state bank, KfW, which are drawn through local banks, which often also provide significant mentoring.
Imagine the positive impact on Ireland of moving from a focus on the monetary value of the land to a focus on social value instead? Cash-strapped local authorities often see the sale of land as a way to finance other projects. Going beyond this understandable but short-sighted priority will not happen without significant state support.
Since 2016, the UK has allocated Â£ 223million for community managed housing. This has led to the establishment of community-run housing centers, which work with groups at an early stage, offering essential counseling, mentoring and project management. They also work with local districts, developers and housing associations.
A clear path with support and grants available at every stage from planning to construction is starting to emerge. A community housing fund like the one in the UK is badly needed to build the capacity of the Irish sector.
Targeted development at low interest rates and long-term financing are also needed, perhaps along the lines of the German model. Since some of these programs are rental, they could be placed under the umbrella of the Housing Finance Agency and the Rental Value Loan Program.
Community land trusts are a stimulating form of community-led housing. Ownership of the land remains in trust, so residents only pay for their home and a current land lease. Although the leases are hereditary, the terms set by the trust prevent anyone from making a quick buck selling the houses. They remain affordable in perpetuity.
Self-Organized Architecture research profiles feature Community Land Trust Brussels (CLTB), where families with incomes of up to â¬ 40,000 can become members and buy their own homes at 25-50 percent of the market price . Residents receive a 25-year 2 percent mortgage from a social credit agency. The land lease costs â¬ 10 per month.
This would help create a legal basis for Irish Community Land Trusts if a legal definition were inserted into the Housing Act 2019 (Approved Housing Bodies Regulation) and would also make it easier for trusts to access public land.
The eight Irish projects featured in Self-Organized Architecture research are diverse. One is a 25 house project in Callan called Nimble Spaces. It aims to enable people with disabilities to live in an inclusive and supportive neighborhood. The project is a mix of social and cooperative housing. The project involves Camphill Callan, LÃonra Co-Housing, LiD Architects, Ã Cualann CoHousing Alliance and Tuath Housing.
It’s a good illustration of the kind of hoops that a group, no matter how dedicated, must go through to achieve a vision. A number of pilot projects involving consistent financial pathways, mentoring and support would demonstrate how much this model has to offer. Nothing beats visiting and walking around a successful initiative.
The housing crisis is often presented as an intractable problem. Although complex, difficult and multifaceted, at least part of the solution lies in this modern take on the Meitheal tradition which has always been an inspiring part of Irish society.