Housing co-ops have much to offer. They deliver affordable housing when many people are being priced out of the market. They help to create, and build powerful communities and offer tenants far greater control over the things that matter most to them.
The evidence in our new report, Shared Space: How Scottish Housing Co-Ops Build Communities, is compelling – housing co-ops are making a very positive difference to tenants across Scotland.
The housing co-op in West Whitlawburn, Cambuslang, south of Glasgow, is 30 years old this year. Before the co-op took over, there was a high turnover of tenants in the tower block flats on an estate ravaged by drugs and crime.
Within five years, the co-op had turned that around to increase demand and reduce turnover – and that’s still the case 25 years later.
The co-op achieved this by taking time to understand what tenants wanted. Their top priority was security – and new entry systems, concierge services and cameras made them feel much more secure.
Later, the flats were given new exterior cladding and the insides refurbished significantly. Residents felt safer in warmer, more attractive homes. Anne Anderson, chair of the Management Committee at West Whitlawburn – who has lived on the estate for 40 years – says in the report: “As a co-op, it is definitely a much better environment, a better place to live. It’s not just about security and better homes – one real difference between the council and co-op is that you always know who you’re talking to. It’s much more of a community.”
Edinburgh Student Housing Co-Op (ESHC) is very different to West Whitlawburn, but offers equally significant benefits to its 106 residents – not least a rent of £322 per month (including all utilities, wi-fi and basic cleaning products) against a typical Edinburgh student rent of £550-plus and up to £1000 in the growing luxury end of the market.
Most student housing is either run down or expensive – or both – and frequently overcrowded and sterile. In an era where student housing is a lucrative investment opportunity, ESHC concentrates on a positive resident experience rather than high returns.
However, ESHC is not just about cheap rents – it has built a strong community, with benefits spilling over into residents’ personal and social worlds. As Nathan Bower-Bir, who lives in the co-op, explains: “Members who had never before used a hammer have built new kitchen shelves, replaced boiler thermostats, and wired new light fittings – developing valuable skills and boosting their own confidence.”
The student housing co-op is a place where everyone has to learn to communicate better with each other, to work things out. There is enormous demand to live there – yet it has struggled to grow by acquiring new property because of extremely high house prices in Edinburgh.
ESHC is the largest of only three student housing co-ops in the UK – and there are only 11 registered housing co-ops in Scotland out of 685 across the UK. Why is this, when the benefits are there to see? There are many reasons, including high property costs and a perception that housing co-ops are too challenging, too difficult to regulate.
With publication of this new report, which we launched at the cross-party group on co-ops at the Scottish Parliament, we are trying to tackle a lack of political understanding.There was very positive support for housing co-ops at the meeting and the report contains several recommendations to get the issue onto the political agenda in Scotland.
These include a three-year pilot programme to aid the development of more housing co-ops, consulting Scotland’s social tenants to understand their appetite for increased involvement in decisions regarding their homes and neighbourhoods, and granting targeted relief from Land and Buildings Transaction Tax on additional property purchases made by fully mutual housing co-ops.
We are working with MSPs to push these recommendations forward. By delivering cheaper rents, warmer and safer homes and stronger communities, housing co-ops deliver across our policy agenda. The time for housing co-ops is now.
Ed Mayo is secretary-general of Co-operatives UK, the network for Britain’s co-operatives, which promotes, develops and unites co-operatives across all sectors, from major high street retailers and large agricultural businesses to community-owned pubs and credit unions. Find out more at www.uk.coop.