How Housing Co-Operatives Illustrate Home Truth in Region; AGENDA as the Government Tries to Help the Housing Market by Targeting Stamp Duty, Chris Handy and John Morris Describe an Initiative Involving Midland Agencies Which Aims to Raise the Profile of Housing Co-Operatives

The Birmingham Post (England), September 3, 2008 | Go to article overview

How Housing Co-Operatives Illustrate Home Truth in Region; AGENDA as the Government Tries to Help the Housing Market by Targeting Stamp Duty, Chris Handy and John Morris Describe an Initiative Involving Midland Agencies Which Aims to Raise the Profile of Housing Co-Operatives


Byline: Chris Handy and John Morris

At a time of growing concern about anti-social behaviour, of which knife crime is the most extreme form, the credit crunch, a stalling housing market and a lack of affordable housing for local people, there exists on our doorstep an established way to confront these problems pioneered in the UK that stretches back into the 19th Century - housing co-operatives.

Housing co-operatives have deep historical roots and a record of achievement in developing locally-controlled housing, communities that care for each other, and old-fashioned neighbourliness, which have been replicated around the world. And the Midlands, especially Birmingham, the Black Country, Leicestershire and Derbyshire have been at the forefront of developing this form of participative housing and communities.

What is surprising is that UK housing cooperatives are less developed numerically than in many other countries, although the relatively small sector is Gourishing in qualitative terms. Only 0.1 per cent of UK housing can be classed as co-operative, in contrast to 18 per cent in Sweden or 14 per cent in Norway for example, and one per cent even in the USA, that bastion of free market ideology.

That's why Midland housing and research agencies are among the prime movers behind the creation of a new and national Commission on Co-operative Housing. Accord Housing Group (including Birmingham Co-operative Housing Services) the Matrix Housing Partnership, Trident Housing Association, the Human City Institute and the University of Birmingham's Centre for Urban and Regional Studies have all helped set in motion the Commission which will sit over the next year or so to research the future role of our country's housing co-ops.

The commission is supported by the Chartered Institute of Housing, the National Housing Federation, the Housing Associations Charitable Trust, the UK Co-ownership Network, Anthony Collins Solicitors and the Building Societies Association - whose director general Adrian Coles is chair of the commission - as well as co-operative organisations like the Confederation of Co-operation Housing, Co-operatives UK and the London-based Co-operative Development Society.

The commission is taking evidence from across the country through public hearings, is calling for evidence from interested parties, researching housing co-operative case studies, and liaising with major political parties, all of which have expressed interest in the commission's work; for example, the contribution of the commission was acknowledged in July's Government White Paper 'Communities in Control'.

Housing Minister Caroline Flint has also offered support: "We now need to explore how we can mainstream the excellent work of existing housing co-operatives and mutual housing solutions to shape the housing of tomorrow.

The commission has a vital role to play."

Housing co-operatives are gaining ground with opposition parties too. The Conservatives have set up their own 'Conservative Co-operatives' organisation and housing co-operatives achieved a prominent role in Boris Johnson's London mayoral manifesto. Grant Shapps, the Tory housing spokesperson, has expanded on this: "Housing co-operatives are a valuable means of creating new affordable housing; I welcome the launch of the Commission and look forward to reading its Hndings and recommendations."

And Liberal Democrat Housing Spokesperson Lembit Opik has recognised how housing co-operatives might make a greater contribution: "I'm very pleased to see that the hard work carried out by housing co-operatives is being noticed in setting up the Commission ... housing co-operatives could play a huge part in empowering individuals."

The advantages of housing co-operatives are one of the country's best kept housing secrets, although well-known in the mutual sector overall, such as building societies, mutual Hnancial institutions, and retail, worker, and agricultural co-operatives. …

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How Housing Co-Operatives Illustrate Home Truth in Region; AGENDA as the Government Tries to Help the Housing Market by Targeting Stamp Duty, Chris Handy and John Morris Describe an Initiative Involving Midland Agencies Which Aims to Raise the Profile of Housing Co-Operatives
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