SOA have made the following Submission to the Programme for Government on Thursday 28 May 2020, advocating for recognition and support of Community-Led Housing in Ireland, and outlining eight specific policy measures which would empower Irish communities to collectively meet their local housing needs.
The letter is addressed to the leaders of the three parties currently negotiating on Government formation, namely Mr Leo Varadkar (FG), Mr Micheál Martin (FF), and Mr Eamon Ryan (Green Party), and has been structured with reference to Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil’s Draft Framework for Government.
The letter has been co-signed and endorsed by the following organisations and Irish Community-Led Housing Groups:
- Ó Cualann Cohousing Alliance
- The Irish Council for Social Housing (ICSH)
- The Credit Union Development Association (CUDA)
- Dublin Food Co-operative
- Common Ground Co-Housing (Wicklow)
- ARTHOUSE Cooperative (Dublin)
- Cloughjordan Co-Housing (Tipperary)
- Líonra Co-Housing (Kilkenny)
We write on behalf of SOA Research CLG to propose a recognition of:
as key components of housing delivery and neighbourhood creation in the next Programme for Government.
Community-Led Housing and Community Land Trusts are growing components of the housing landscape which have gained rapidly increasing recognition in the UK and mainland Europe over recent decades. As such we propose that a recognition and associated support for this sector in the Programme for Government would have wide-reaching benefits to the citizens of Ireland.
The draft document (Framework) published by Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael to facilitate negotiations on a Programme for Government places significant emphasis on the theme of improving the well-being of the Irish people. SOA Research welcomes this focus, and particularly appreciate the proposal that the new Government’s approach “will be built on the fundamental values of community and solidarity”, as well as the acknowledgement that the new Government “must look beyond economic indicators” and “create new, credible, quality-of-life measures of individual and societal wellbeing and progress.”
SOA propose that increased recognition and provision for Community-Led Housing would serve to enhance societal well-being, particularly under the following five ‘Missions’ identified for a new Government:
- Housing for All
- A New Social Contract
- A New Green Deal
- A Better Quality of Life for All
- Supporting Young Ireland
Housing For All
SOA welcome the stated intentions in the draft framework to “place the State firmly at the centre of the Irish housing market” and through bold action to “tackle land costs and provide the stimuli for home-building”. We propose that State support and facilitation of Community-Led Housing, along with policies to support the creation of Community Land Trusts, would have a significant impact in achieving both of these goals.
Specifically, we propose the following measures to tackle land costs, and to support and empower community groups to meet their own specific housing needs:
- Acknowledgement and associated support of Community Led Housing as a means of empowering communities to meet their specific housing needs affordably and collectively.
- Recognition of the Community Land Trust in legislation, as has been done in the UK Housing and Regeneration Act 2008, as a means of retaining public land in perpetuity for community benefit, and separating the cost of land from the cost of the homes built on it. Community Land Trusts provide a unique solution in catalysing the reuse of vacant sites and buildings.
- The creation of long-term leases on publicly owned land, which can be allocated to community-led groups to meet their housing needs, while retaining the land as a public asset.
- The investigation, streamlining and integration of funding mechanisms which could support community-led groups in Ireland in realising their projects. This could include for example a Community Housing Fund, as has been implemented in the UK, as well as necessary measures to empower Credit Unions and others to provide low interest mortgage financing to Community-Led Housing groups.
- The implementation of measures to provide increased autonomy and decision-making to Local Authorities and communities, which would empower them to evaluate and deliver housing initiatives which successfully meet specific local needs. This has been achieved in the UK via the 2011 Localism Act which grants communities direct power to develop a shared vision for their neighbourhood and shape the development and growth of their local area.
- The formation of competitive ‘concept-based’ processes by which community groups can bid for public land (and/or land leases) which prioritise socially and ecologically sustainable proposals along with financial viability, as per initiatives in Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands, UK and elsewhere.
- Emulating initiatives which have proven successful in the UK, the creation of supportive hubs, technical advice, and funding for community-led groups to realise their specific visions to improve how their places look and function. (Acknowledging the positive societal benefits of community-led housing, the UK government has worked with a variety of stakeholder groups over recent decades to develop a supportive infrastructure for community-led development.)
- The integration of Community Led Housing into State and Local planning frameworks, such as Rebuilding Ireland and Local Area Planning.
A New Social Contract
SOA welcome the framework document proposals to “provide each citizen with accessible and affordable housing, and a dignified retirement” along with a new social contract which will “provide for greater security for individuals and communities and will be founded on the principles of equality and ensuring that every citizen has the opportunity to contribute to, and achieve, their potential.”
Community-led housing initiatives empower communities to unlock their know-how and innate creativity to visualise and plan ways to regenerate their neighbourhoods. They offer a voice and genuine participation to citizens in the creation of their homes and communities. Community-Led Housing groups promote full integration, from mixed income to age to special needs to ethnicity. They further provide a mechanism by which those not adequately catered to by the wider housing market are empowered to invent innovative solutions to their particular housing needs. In Ireland this mechanism has the potential to provide huge benefits for societal groups such as:
- Elderly and/or retired citizens who are eager to retain their independence while participating in and being supported by a strong neighbourhood community.
- Those with various disabilities or accessibility constraints, who are empowered to visualise homes and communities which enable them to retain independence.
A New Green Deal
It is exciting to see acknowledgement in the framework document that “the response domestically and internationally to the Covid-19 Emergency illustrates our capacity to react comprehensively and imaginatively to fundamental challenges” and that “we must utilise the radicalism of the response to this Emergency to tackle the climate and biodiversity crisis.”
SOA believes that a proactive and enthusiastic national response to the climate emergency offers huge opportunities to Irish citizens in terms of innovation, enhanced quality of life, and the creation of new environmentally friendly industries.
By empowering local communities to collaborate in responding to specific local needs, Community-led housing initiatives can address the combined challenges of climate action, urban regeneration, regeneration of our towns and villages, and sustainable housing. Innovation in developing solutions to these challenges can often best be explored not at individual, family or regional level, but at a community level. Community led housing projects, which typically range between 10-50 households, offer the potential to explore innovative solutions at a manageable scale. In Germany for example, encouraged by low-interest KfW financing which supports environmentally sustainable projects, the vast majority of community-led housing projects are built to very high environmental standards, and frequently exemplify innovation in community generated energy via mechanisms such as project based Combined Heat & Power systems.
A key feature of cohousing projects worldwide is an emphasis on car-free neighbourhoods, and projects from across Europe and further afield provide examples of reduced car use and encouragement of travel by foot and bicycle. Furthermore, the frequent inclusion of coworking spaces as an element of collaborative housing projects reduces the need for residents to commute to work, reducing their carbon footprint in the process.
Encouraged and incentivised by ‘concept-based’ approaches to the development of land which prioritise social and environmental sustainability criteria over speculative price bidding, community-led projects in the UK and Europe have demonstrated leadership in creating socially and environmentally sustainable and cohesive homes and neighbourhoods, and inclusive multi-generational communites. Furthermore, these projects frequently contribute to urban regeneration and ecological retrofit by adapting and reusing disused buildings and/or difficult sites.
A Better Quality of Life for All
The framework document highlights “anxieties of citizens around commuting, regional imbalance, and a lack of time with family” and proposes “drawing on the sense of community and solidarity that has been displayed in such strength throughout the Covid-19 Emergency to provide a basis for improving the quality of life for individuals and families across Ireland.”
SOA welcome in particular the following steps outlined in the document to aid the achievement of these goals:
- “Move to 20% home and remote working in 2021” for public sector employees.
- “reduce dereliction and to bring vacant properties back into use in our urban areas.”
- “Support the building of new affordable homes in our towns and villages.”
- “Prioritise the upkeep and expansion of parks and green spaces for community enjoyment across Ireland.”
- “Support community groups, arts and cultural bodies, sports clubs, voluntary organisations, charity groups and voluntary bodies to recover and grow in the aftermath of the COVID-19 Emergency.”
Community-led housing initiatives abroad have been shown to accelerate the achievement of the above listed steps in many countries. By placing resident participation in the design process as a core element, community-led housing allows future residents to consider and plan for their neighbourhood needs, which has frequently resulted in a more holistic approach to design, encompassing coworking, public amenities, communal gardening and sharing of resources. Innovative live/work arrangements have enabled residents to work from home and reduce commutes, to co-design green spaces for neighbourhood amenity, and thus to spend more quality time together as families and as neighbours.
A core goal of Community Land Trusts is the assurance of long-term affordability, meaning that not only are homes affordable at initial construction, they will remain affordable for future residents, and remove land speculation from the cost of homes.
Furthermore, policy supports and funding for community-led housing initiatives in the UK and elsewhere have enabled citizens in rural, village and urban areas to proactively tackle vacancy and dereliction, and to breathe new life into disused buildings. By considering local needs and inviting participation from the wider community, Community-led housing and Community Land Trust initiatives have been shown to creatively respond to specific local challenges, and have a revitalising effect on the wider neighbourhood.
Finally, community-led housing projects frequently provide meeting spaces and facilities for community groups in the wider neighbourhood, a community benefit which can be further incentivised by Local Authority led ‘concept-based’ processes for the disposal or leasing of public land.
Supporting Young Ireland
Young people in particular have become increasingly disenfranchised from access to quality housing in Ireland over recent decades. The aspiration of owning a home, or of secure affordable rental, has become unattainable for many in their 20s and 30s. SOA welcome the intentions stated in the framework to “Ensure that young people have access to affordable housing, and that homeownership is a realistic aspiration for them”, to “develop mechanisms for the voice of young people to be part of decision-making at community, county and national levels”, and to “enable young people with disabilities or special needs to live as independently a life as possible.”
Community-led housing offers a voice to all citizens, including young people, and the opportunity to participate in the creation of more inclusive, mixed and diverse neighbourhoods. Combined ‘owner renter’ models further provide young people with the opportunity to become cooperative members with relatively low initial costs, and to increase their share of space over time.
SOA Research considers that these recommendations would serve to empower communities to proactively contribute and innovate in the creation of high quality built environments, as part of the implementation and delivery of the new Programme for Government.
It has been widely highlighted that the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis provides a once in a lifetime opportunity to reimagine a more equal and just society in Ireland. We hope you will help seize this opportunity to put communities and citizens back at the heart of neighbourhood development, and to embrace the idea of homes as a social good. These proposals would provide a social return which far outweighs the investment, by unlocking the latent potential for citizens to contribute more fully to the quality of their homes and communities.
We would be happy to provide whatever assistance we can to help implement the new Government’s commitments to tackle land costs, to provide the stimuli for home-building, to provide each citizen with accessible and affordable housing and a dignified retirement, and to tackle the climate and biodiversity crisis, building on the fundamental values of community and solidarity.
Please let us know if we can provide you with any additional information in the meantime and we will be happy to oblige with further details.
SOA Research CLG