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Cwmpas – A platform for participation, not profit

Kathryn Griffiths and Rosie Barnes report on community-led housing at two inspirational events in the summer. 

Over the Summer, the Cwmpas Communities Creating Homes team have been out and about spreading the word about community-led housing, to communities across Wales, and further afield.

In 2019/20 40 per cent of homes sold in Gwynedd went to second home buyers.

The average house price in the county is £244,000, with the average monthly rent standing at £700.

More than 3,000 people are on the waiting list for social housing (bbc.co.uk).

Given these shocking statistics, the Communities Creating Homes team headed to the Llyn ac Eifionydd Eisteddfod in August conscious that emotions would be running high and prepared to share information and inspiration around alternative, community-led solutions to the current local housing crisis. As expected, everyone we spoke with on the issue had a story to tell that revealed the stark reality behind the numbers: young people having to move away from the places where they grew up; families struggling to keep up with rent and mortgage payments; community cohesion and the Welsh language in decline.

Things came to a head at a rally organised by Cymdeithas Yr Iaith – easily one of the best-attended side events we saw all week. Attendees were encouraged to march across the Maes to express their discontent, while guest speakers shared their impassioned thoughts on the current situation, its wide-reaching impacts and the changes Gwynedd’s residents need to see.

We were encourageble homes in their area which are controlled in perpetuity by local people. Cian’s drive to inspire lasting, positive change within Bro’r Eifl and beyond filled us with a sense of irrepressible hope that Gwynedd’s communities have the knowledge, skills, and passion to develop their own solutions to the housing crisis – something we are excited to continue being a part of!

In June, we also joined 2,100 social housing providers, policymakers, city representatives, urbanists, architects, researchers, NGOs, and activists, to take part in the International Social Housing Festival in Barcelona. Across three days of the conference, we met, learned from, and were repeatedly inspired by representatives from across the world; all of whom are working to build a housing system rooted in justice and sustainability for everyone in their towns, cities and beyond.

Housing challenges that we face in Wales are not unique. Market-driven development and the domination of housing provision for profit, alongside the retraction of the public sector in the supply of housing were mentioned time and time again by speakers from across Europe. But amongst the challenges we also heard hopeful stories from cities like Barcelona, which is introducing innovative policies to restore people’s right to decent housing. Examples include: the acquisition of land and buildings to turn them into homes; the use of sustainable methods of construction to ensure those homes are made in line with our planet’s boundaries; the mobilisation of private housing to provide affordable rental homes to undo decades of soaring housing costs; as well as financial and logistical support for community-led housing as an essential and exciting model to put homes back into communities’ hands. This is demonstrated through the City Council’s support for the La Borda Co-operative project.

Key to the changes in Barcelona is Ada Colau, the mayor, who has consolidated a ‘shift in the cultural paradigm of housing’, utilising housing policies at her disposal to deliver for residents. This shift was a key theme in the conference and was similarly reflected in the opening speech of the president of Housing Europe, Bent Madsen, explaining that ‘housing is a platform for participation, not profit’. This aligns with our vision at Cwmpas – where communities are in control of housing that is responsive to their needs, not those of the shareholders of developers.

Our workshop, ‘Mastering words as a way to overcome one part of the housing crisis’, aimed to respond to one part of that transition. Communication is an important tool for us to engage with diverse communities and garner popular support for community-led solutions to the housing crisis. In the spirit of co-operation that runs through our work at Cwmpas, the ISHF organizers brought together a group of collaborators, including Cwmpas, Housing Europe, Den Haag, the Hague city authority, and GHS, the Federation of Public, Private and Cooperative and Social Housing promoters and managers in Catalonia, to deliver an event on the power of communication to develop a better housing system, where communities and residents are centred in conversations. In front of an audience of 125 people from all around the world, we heard inspiring stories and messages from policy leaders that have cut through the noise and triggered action – and we would like to say a big thanks to our partners and speakers for their contributions to this successful event.

It was incredible to hear our beliefs of community-led housing as central to a mixed housing strategy being mirrored across the festival, and with a specific track of sessions focussed solely on community-led housing, there was plenty of learning to be taken from others. Topics included developing new co-operative finance models, drawing in political will, building community involvement, and using sustainable building methods. We will be able to draw on this learning, to bring innovations to the community-led housing movement in Wales. The final day of the conference brought the launch of the European Community Land Trust – and with it a stronger and more joined up movement across the continent – and it was fantastic to celebrate this moment with CLTs from across the UK and Europe.

It takes political will, dedication, and time, as well as adequate and targeted investment to ensure that communities have access to quality homes that allow them to have a decent life. We hope that affordable housing providers, policymakers, politicians, and urbanists from across Wales continue looking outwards – there is so much to be learned from the policy innovations happening abroad which could provide a template for how we instil housing justice in our communities here at home.

Kathryn Griffiths and Rosie Barnes are community-led housing co-ordinators at Cwmpas. If you would like more information on the support that Communities Creating Homes can provide, please email co-op.housing@cwmpas.coop, or call 0300 111 5050.

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