Will there be another round of the Community Housing Fund?

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The Community Housing Fund has been a great boost to schemes up and down the country, but it has had something of a chequered history, and, at the time of writing, it has an uncertain future.

“We will support community housing” said the Conservative Party manifesto back in 2019 and since being returned to office the Government has supported community (led) housing in a variety of ways, but for most of England, outside London, the Community Housing Fund (CHF) closed just a year later, in December 2020.

The CHF was first announced in the Spring 2016 budget by the then chancellor. On 16th March 2016 the Rt Hon George Osborne told the House of Commons “We’re going to … support community housing trusts, including £20 million to help young families onto the housing ladder in the South West of England”

In 2016-17, £60m was distributed to 148 councils to support community led housing, largely based on the recorded prevalence of second homes, so most of the housing authorities (mostly District Councils) in the South West benefited, but not all of them. For some, perhaps most, local housing authorities it came as a bit of a shock, since they didn’t need to bid for it, with the first tranche of actual cash being paid over just before Christmas with the expectation that it would be deployed before the end of the financial year! Most rose to the challenge and swiftly put plans into place.

people outside the opening of community owned housing

Following this, the community led housing sector worked with the relevant Government Department (then called the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government or MHCLG) to establish a more structured programme which launched in the summer of 2018. This iteration of the CHF was a huge success. It increased the potential pipeline of homes from 5,810 to over 23,000. It also developed the network of some 25 community led housing hubs covering most of England, the hub for Dorset and Somerset now being hosted by Middlemarch. Over 120 advisers completed accredited training (recognised by the Chartered Institute of Housing), including all of us at Middlemarch.

CLH logo

Over half the local authorities in England now have either policies or dedicated officers (in some cases both!) to support community led housing. While the fund remains open in London (until the end of March 2023), it closed for the rest of England after only 18 months.

However, a further £4m was made available for groups with advanced projects in 2021-22, but with only five months for them to bid and take up any award of grant the scope of that round of funding was inevitably narrower than previously had been the case.

We all expected a revived fund to be announced in the autumn budget last year. All the signs were there. The Government had continued to pledge support for community led housing schemes and acknowledged the added value demonstrated.

“Housing built by community-led groups, including community land trusts and housing co-operatives, can deliver high quality affordable housing that cannot be delivered by the mainstream market. We have supported community-led housebuilding through the Community Housing Fund and we will consider how best to maintain that support going forward.” They said in The Charter for Social Housing Residents, published last year.

The autumn budget came … and went! “… we will always give people the support they need and the tools to build a better life for themselves.” Rishi Sunak told the House of Commons, although he didn’t directly translate that into any specific funding for communities to address their own housing issues. However, he did pledge to “…meet our commitment to invest £10bn in new housing… and unlock 1 million new homes…”

But what about the newly renamed Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) lead by the Rt Hon Michael Gove as Secretary of State? The Kruger report on Levelling Up Our Communities  (commissioned by the Prime Minister) recommended that community led housing “should be recognised as the future of social housing, both in rural and urban areas, and more enthusiastically backed by government.”

Although the Chancellor hadn’t set aside specific funding to revitalise the CHF, couldn’t the Secretary of State set aside such a fund from within his overall DLUHC settlement?

We thought he could. So last November we wrote to every MP where we’ve supported a successful community led housing scheme or where we’re currently supporting a prospective group (in some cases both!) in their constituency. Wherever possible we cited the schemes or potential projects on their patch. Just for good measure we also wrote to all the other MPs with a constituency in Devon, Dorset or Somerset (the three counties we tend to work in most), even if we’re not currently helping any prospective schemes and haven’t in the past. A full list of all these MPs is in the table below.

Tobias EllwoodBournemouth East
Conor BurnsBournemouth West
Ian Liddell-GraingerBridgwater & West Somerset
Mel StrideCentral Devon
Sir Christopher ChopeChristchurch
Simon JuppEast Devon
Ben Bradshaw*Exeter
Michael TomlinsonMid Dorset & North Poole
Anne Marie MorrisNewton Abbot
Selaine SaxbyNorth Devon
Simon HoareNorth Dorset
Dr Liam FoxNorth Somerset
Sir Robert SymsPoole
John GlenSalisbury
David WarburtonSomerton & Frome
Richard DraxSouth Dorset
Sir Gary StreeterSouth West Devon
Sir Geoffrey Clifton BrowneThe Cotswolds
Rebecca PowTaunton Deane
Luke HallThornbury & Yate
Neil ParishTiverton & Honiton
Kevin FosterTorbay
Sir Geoffrey CoxTorridge & West Devon
Anthony MangnallTotnes
James HeappeyWells
Chris LoderWest Dorset
Marcus FyshYeovil
*NB Ben Bradshaw is the only Labour MP listed, all the others are Conservative

We pointed out all the advantages of community led housing schemes and why fledgling groups are at a disadvantage compared with other developers: “At the early stages any newly formed group will find it difficult to meet the preliminary costs of securing a site and undertaking all the necessary assessments in order to seek planning permission. A Community Led group may have the enthusiasm and willingness to put in volunteer time ‘at risk’ but, unlike a Housing Association or a volume builder, it won’t have the reserves or other financial capacity to underwrite that commitment.” we told them.

We also quoted the Kruger report and the Charter for Social Housing Residents as well as the Bacon Review of Self and Custom Build (which recommended that “the Government should reignite the successful Community Housing Fund”) and The Building Better Building Beautiful Commission (which noted in its final report that community led housing groups are “excellent at delivering places that people like and value” and recommended that “the government should continue to support community-led development [including] ongoing funding support for community housing projects, with a sensible long-term commitment, such as for the next five years”).

We asked MPs if they would support the renewal of the CHF and, if so, would they be willing to raise this with the Secretary of State.

Most MPs sent a short, polite but generic acknowledgement. This is no surprise as almost all MPs must get a lot of correspondence and will, quite rightly, want to prioritise urgent casework for individual constituents. Most of them publish their views on certain issues on their website and often direct correspondents there if they think it’s a templated letter as part of a coordinated lobbying campaign that doesn’t merit an individual response. They also, understandably, feel obliged to point correspondents to their own MP when you’re not actually their constituent which, in most cases, of course we aren’t!

So in January we contacted over 50 CLTs to ask if they would be willing to write to their own MP in the hope that direct contact from a group within their constituency might get a more direct response. Across the region, from Appledore to Stow-on-the-Wold, CLTs responded and made contact with their MP, often referring to our earlier contact and often referring to their own schemes and how these could benefit from a renewed CHF (or could have!). In the second table we’ve listed all the CLTs and fledgling groups that we contacted.

AppledoreLyme Regis
Boscombe and PokesdownLyn
Bradford AbbasMarshwood
BradworthyNewton & Noss
BrauntonNorton sub Hamdon
Broad ChalkeParracombe
Burton BradstockQueen Camel
Charlton HorethorneSampford Peverell
Cheriton BishopSixpenny Handley
ChristowSouth Petherton
Colyton and ColyfordSpaxton
Corfe CastleStow on the Wold
Corry ValleySturminster Newton
CreekmoorSymene (Symondsbury)
DorchesterToller Porcorum
Fontmell MagnaUpper Coly Valley
Frome (Faculty)Upper Culm (Hemyock)
Georgeham ParishUpton Pyne
GillinghamWest Somerset
Hartland ParishWilmington
High HamWoolacombe
Langton MatraversYarcombe

To be clear, if your local group is working in partnership with a Housing Association (or if your CLT is one of the few that has become a ‘Registered Provider’ in it’s own right), your proposed scheme can seek subsidy from the Government (through the grants programme administered by Homes England) or, sometimes, from your local housing authority (for example if they need to spend money collected from developers as ‘section 106 contributions’). The CHF doesn’t replace this form of subsidy – but what it does do is help groups get their project to the stage where it is possible to bid for capital subsidy.

There’s been an enthusiastic and very helpful response from some MPs, especially those who have already shown support for a scheme in their constituency. In some cases this came immediately after we contacted them in November, in other cases it came after their local CLT had made contact, but in all cases it is very welcome. At the time of writing we know of five MPs (almost 19%!) who have said that they will contact either the Secretary of State or the Housing Minister.

In the meantime the sector nationally has put together the ‘ask’.

In January the Community Land Trust Network issued a briefing which stated “Based on research by Dr Tom Archer and Catherine Harrington there are an estimated 12,000 homes in the pipeline from over 630 groups. They will need £45 million of pre-development revenue funding and £2.5bn of capital to complete these homes.” It went on to seek £65million over four years,

“We are calling on the Government to renew the Community Housing Fund with:

  • £45 million of revenue grant funding for projects.
  • £8m of revenue grant funding to complete the enabler hubs network.
  • £7.5m of capital grant funding for innovative affordable housing tenures “

One of the key points is the stop/go nature of the CHF. As we all know schemes take years to work through from conception to completion and the sector as a whole needs the surety of knowing that such a fund might be available at the time it is needed. Many of the successful schemes in the West Country have been fortunate to have been at the right stage at the right time. The Affordable Homes we see being delivered for local people this year will have had the right funding available at some point in the past, so renewal of the CHF is about making sure that local communities are in a position to create new homes in future years.

Of course some local housing authorities (but by no means all, in fact not even a majority) are able to help with some early stages funding where they still have such funds allocated within their own budgets. A renewed CHF would level the field and mean the chances of your fledgling group getting financial support when it  most needs it won’t be dependant on whether your local council has an enlightened approach and the funding to back it up.

On the 23rd March this year Rishi Sunak is due to deliver his ‘Spring Statement’ to Parliament. Given the current economic backdrop, some commentators are thinking it could effectively be a fully blown budget. Whether it’s a new budget or just the ‘usual’ seasonal update, let’s hope there’s a revised funding stream for community led housing somewhere in the detail, even if he omits to actually announce it in the House. If not the ability to get community led housing schemes ‘shovel ready’ may rest in the hands of Michael Gove and his willingness to set aside funds from within the DLUHC settlement.