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Posted 9 August 2023

Community Led Housing in Northern Ireland

RCN Blog News

In June, RCN and Development Trusts NI convened a workshop to present findings from research by Queen’s Community and Place Project (QCAP) commissioned by the Department for Communities on community led housing in NI. Policy Officer Aidan Campbell reflects on some of the emerging findings and discussions on the day.

The research presented on the day by QCAP’s Dr Andrew Grounds states:
“Community led housing can take various forms but the best models support communities to develop housing based on local need and demand whilst retaining ownership or management in the long term.  Community led housing can take the form of co-housing, community land trusts, community self-build, housing co-operatives and self-help housing.”
Doctor Andrew Grounds presents findings from the research
Dr Andrew Grounds QCAP
In rural housing need tests undertaken by the Housing Executive the need for affordable housing is often found in many rural settlements.  RCN is interested in Community Led Housing as a way of meeting housing need in rural communities.  The workshop heard from a range of organisations who had an interest in housing issues in rural communities.  Andy Peters from Rathfriland and District Regeneration Group spoke about their direct experience of developing community led housing in the village.
Attendees then broke into groups to discuss what needs to happen to enable more community led housing in rural communities.

Building Skills and Support

The need to build skills and support for organisations who are interested in pursuing community led housing was identified as a priority.  Groups spoke about the importance of learning from others with experience and skills in developing housing.  People said they were interested in learning more about long term planning for the management and maintenance of housing and how to budget for this at the outset.  They also talked about the need to learn more about options for financing community led housing and the types of finance available for this type of development in Britain and elsewhere.

Mission drift and potential ethical challenges

Concerns were expressed around potential mission drift and the challenge of staying true to the core values of social justice and equality if organisations are to become housing developers.  The attraction of community led housing as meeting an important societal need and as an income generator for delivery on wider charitable aims could be a win-win for organisations.  People were alive to the risk of developing CLH which was intended to be “affordable” at the outset, but due to unforeseen costs rise during the development process, could result in homes being let close to local market rents.  This could cause reputational damage in the community and defeat the purpose of what Community Led Housing is trying to achieve.  Achieving financial viability whilst keeping Community Led Housing truly affordable could be a difficult balance to maintain.

How is affordability defined?

Following on from the discussion on ethical challenges several participants questioned how community organisations who are developing housing decide the level of affordable rent in an area.  This prompted a wider discussion on how affordable housing is defined.  Participants considered that affordability needed to be linked to income rather than the market value of private homes in a community.  If “affordable rent” is defined in relation to expensive private sector rent in an area but still excludes a large percentage of the population who aren’t eligible for social housing then can it even be described as affordable?  Participants agreed that the Department for Communities need to develop a framework for affordable housing with input from stakeholders and that community led affordable housing could then be let on that basis.  Some participants reflected that the level of Intermediate Rent the Department for Communities settled on in 2022 (20% discount on average market rent) would leave intermediate housing unaffordable for a significant part of the population.


Fair allocations

Participants also discussed who is considered eligible for affordable housing and how allocations are decided in a fair and transparent way.  Most participants are interested in using Community Led Housing to provide affordable housing.  This is different to social housing so the common waiting list, managed by the Housing Executive and used to allocate social housing, doesn’t apply.

attendees at community led housing share their ideas on the findings of the research

How do promoters of community led housing allocate using a fair and transparent process?  The demand for community led housing, which in rural settlements will be small scale, is still likely to outstrip what can be provided.  If not allocated fairly there is a big risk to the reputation of promoters in the wider community.
 A definite appetite exists amongst community and voluntary groups to explore community led housing as a response to demand for affordable housing.  Support and sharing of knowledge and skills is required if this appetite is to be realised.  Broader issues around the definition of affordability, the implications for financial viability for developers and the allocation of affordable homes need further clarification.
It is hoped that the research will be launched later this year.
For further information click on the following links:

Development Trusts NI

Queens’ Communities and Place Programme

Rathfriland and District Regeneration Group

Rural Community Network

Main Photo by James Feaver on Unsplash