All under one roof: Call for expansion of co-operative housing

(Title Image: Taf Fechan Housing Co-operative)

This week’s short debate was led by Dawn Bowden AM (Lab, Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney) on the subject of co-operative housing schemes.

Housing is “a deeply political choice”

Acknowledging there’s growing consensus and lots of common ground developing on the need to creatively address the housing crisis, the implementation of the bedroom tax and local housing allowances has had a negative impact on young people and single-person households.

Co-operative housing provides another potential solution. Merthyr Valleys Homes is a mutual housing association which allows tenants and workers alike to become a member and own shares and leading to much-needed regeneration of otherwise overlooked housing options.

“….it is perhaps no surprise that Merthyr Valleys Homes also helped to nurture and help develop the Taf Fechan Housing Co-operative. For those who don’t know the area, the Taf Fechan flats (pictured above) had, in truth, become undesirable, hard-to-let units, physically run down, vandalised, and suffering anti-social behaviour. Thankfully, through the vision of Merthyr Valleys Homes, and with support through cheap finance from the local authority, the option of a housing co-operative was identified as part of a brighter future for the 12 flats that are now in the co-operative on the Gellideg estate.”
– Dawn Bowden AM

Residents in the flats have to be members of the co-operative and share responsibility running their homes, making communal decisions on rent levels, maintenance and managing tenancies.

Mike Hedges AM (Lab, Swansea East) described himself as a long-time advocate for co-operative housing, citing similar schemes in Turkey, Canada, the Nordic countries, Austria and New York. In Turkey, some 25% of all housing is co-operative and in Sweden and Norway, it’s pushing 20%.

Social housing is the government’s “top priority”

Local Government & Housing Minister, Julie James (Lab, Swansea West) said the Welsh Government’s priority was still social housing, though community-led housing forms part of the solution and she accepted it wasn’t growing as fast as it could be in Wales.

“….there’s a sort of misapprehension about what (co-operative housing) means. But I’ve visited a west side apartment in New York that’s a co-operative, and it looked like a penthouse to me, is all I can say….What it also does is it allows us to drive different models and types of tenure into our housing across Wales, and that kind of mixed tenure is really important.”
– Local Government & Housing Minister, Julie James

The government has provided £1.9million in capital funding to support three “pioneer schemes”, while other local authorities like Swansea have moved to adopt a co-operative housing policy.

Such a programme has to be led by communities themselves though and not “top-down”, while she’s ruled out community land trusts for the time being as she wasn’t convinced it would work – though the Minister was open-minded to considering viable proposals in the future.

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