The rural housing pledge
I find it hard not to support the motives of the Rural Housing Alliance – a group of Housing Associations that specialise in providing affordable homes for local people in villages in the countryside.
At a House of Commons launch that I attended earlier this week, these sixteen associations pledged to:
- Work closely with the local community and Parish council to find the right site;
- Always give qualifying local people in housing need first priority for every home;
- Ensure that affordable homes always remain affordable;
- Build sensitively designed, high quality homes to good environmental standards;
- Provide good quality and locally sensitive management services to our local residents, and to;
- Always respond positively to the local community.
These seem obvious objectives for any provider of affordable housing and so, I wonder, why do these groups think that they now need to ‘take the pledge’? And how have they been getting it so very wrong up to now?
Well to be fair, the sixteen housing associations behind this particular initiative have performed better than most. They already have a track record of taking a sensitive approach in their dealings with residents of small rural communities.
However, in general, the delivery of new affordable housing in the countryside in recent decades has not been a glittering success.
How many times have I driven through an English village and seen clusters of poorly designed identikit affordable houses on the edge of the village, poorly connected with the few facilities and services that do remain in these rural communities?
Even a first-time visitor can spot the council estate, despite the fact that many of these homes are now in private hands.
This leads us to another of the problems.
Where have the affordable homes gone?
When old Uncle George donated some land to the corporation to build new homes for the people of the village some 60 or so years ago, the last thing he expected was that they would end up in private hands.
Someone else has profited from his generosity, and people in rural communities have very long memories.
No wonder housing associations often find such resistance to what they are trying to achieve.
And no wonder, in this era of localism, some communities are trying to find an alternative way to make their villages sustainable, vibrant and self sufficient.
That alternative already exists.
It’s called a Community Land Trust, and rural communities throughout the breadth of England are finding that it’s a legal model that works for them.
It allows local people, who know best how to plan and develop their own neighbourhoods, to own and manage property assets such as affordable housing for the benefit of their community in perpetuity.
Despite the bureaucratic obstacles that they face, Community Land Trusts, run by the people, for the people, are already building new homes, shops, and workspaces, and establishing new schools, meeting places and even community farms.
Communities that are ‘doing it for themselves’, rather than, ‘being done to’, have already taken the Rural Pledge.
Phil Rose, Community Land Trust Development Manager