How might community-led housing help in providing enough rental housing for our ageing population?

A parliamentary report published last week claims that 630,000 millennials may be left homeless when they retire.

The report bases these claims on predictions that the number of households in the private sector headed by someone aged over 64 will more than treble over the next 25-30 years.  It argues for an immediate need for more purpose-built, affordable rented housing, to head off the impending crisis.  In this article, we look at how community-led housing might help meet that need.

The wider housing crisis

The challenge of providing enough rental properties for older people is just one part of the multi-faceted housing crisis we are facing.  The current Government was elected by a manifesto pledge to deliver 1 million new homes by the end of 2020, with another half million delivered by the end of 2022.  These are big numbers and so far, supply is not meeting demand.

Could community-led housing help?

We work with many clients who are exploring innovative solutions to the housing crisis, particularly in the community-led housing sector. 

Homes England currently estimate that 16,600 homes could be delivered through community-led solutions.  Although this is only a fraction of the homes which need to be built, community-led housing is often built on sites which may be overlooked by commercial developers, providing houses which would otherwise not be built.  In rural communities, just a small number of new homes can make a big difference, relieving pressure on existing housing stock and keeping a community together. 

Community-led housing offers particularly attractive opportunities for housing older people.  The aim is to create an intentional community, where people know their neighbours and live in a mutually supportive environment.  By reducing social isolation and loneliness, and saving money through sharing resources, it offers older people the chance to live independently, for longer.

What types of community-led housing are there?

Community-led housing covers a whole spectrum of projects, including community land trusts, cohousing, housing cooperatives and collective self build.  What they have in common is genuine, meaningful community involvement, with benefits to the community clearly defined and protected.  The community will develop, manage and/or own the homes, offering local people more control over the design and running of their homes than would otherwise be the case.

In some cases, the housing might be specifically for older people.  Tonic Living aims to provide inclusive retirement communities for LGBT+ people aged over fifty, a group which are under-catered for by conventional housing schemes.  The parliamentary report referred to above also mentions the pioneering Older Women's Co-housing development, a scheme in London which is a mixture of owner-occupied and social rented accommodation aimed at women aged over fifty.  Affordable rental properties are provided in partnership with a housing association. 

In other cases, community-led housing is not aimed specifically at older people, but still provides an inclusive environment where mutual support and care means people can thrive independently into old age.  LILAC in Leeds is an intergenerational cohousing scheme in Leeds which uses the MHOS model, an innovative structure where residents pay a monthly charge in return for equity shares in the co-operative society which is their landlord.  We are working with Yorspace, who are developing lower cost housing in York using a similar MHOS structure.  In both cases, living costs are lower than they would be in the private rented sector.  Residents also benefit from a healthier living environment, with the homes built using natural materials and according to ecologically sustainable principles.

It is clear, therefore, that community-led housing could play a small part in averting the crisis facing Generation Rent.  Affordability might be achieved through partnering with a housing association or local council, or might be delivered via an innovative model such as MHOS.  Either way, the concept can be used to deliver low-cost rental homes, with the added benefits of reduced social isolation and mutual support which are so critical in older age.  This is why we support the national call to expand the community-led homes programme.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.