Supporting and developing a mutual and co-operative approach can be an important part of the solution.

Today I am holding short debate in the National Assembly regarding the power of co-operative housing solutions in helping to meet housing needs in communities across Wales.

From experience I know that co-operative housing has been beneficial in addressing housing need in Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney. As a Welsh Labour and Co-operative Party Assembly Member, I believe that more mutual and co-operative approaches will be a powerful tool in helping to solve not just housing problems, but also in helping to build more cohesive communities across Wales. Our challenge is always to build more cohesive communities as well as meeting housing need. I am pleased that our Welsh Government supports mutual and co-operative solutions to some of the problems we face. Indeed such actions formed a part of the pledges that we made at the 2016 assembly elections, and I hope we build on this in the future.

Housing Need

From my own experience I know that housing need is a significant issue in Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney. This includes:

  • a significant need for homes to house young and single people
  • a need for homes of a size that can help people to avoid personal debt because of having to pay their bedroom tax
  • a need for private rented homes to be available at rent levels that people can afford that relate more closely to the Local Housing Allowance, and
  • the need to build more new private housing – for those people who can afford to buy a home either with, or without, Welsh Government support such as ‘help to buy’.

This list is not exhaustive and that is before we even get to the problems of homelessness and how we get a roof over people’s heads in the first instance.

Welsh Government Action

I welcome the extensive steps that our Welsh Government have taken even in the face of a decade of Tory spending cuts. For example:

  • ending the right to buy in order to protect our valuable public housing for those in need
  • the funding of more affordable homes
  • the return of a council house building programme
  • greater protection for tenants and stronger regulation of landlords (for example the abolition of private letting agency fees)
  • stepping up action against homelessness and the recent welcome embrace of a whole system approach to these problems

Co-operative and mutual housing solutions

Sitting amongst these many solutions, and with far more potential for the future, I want to highlight the opportunity for co-operative solutions to help meet housing needs in our communities. I am fortunate to have Merthyr Valleys Homes (MVH) in my constituency. They are a great example of what a positive impact co-operative housing can offer to Wales.

MVH has become the largest tenant and employee mutual in the country.  They own and manage over 4,200 homes across the county borough of Merthyr Tydfil. The Association’s board wanted to take a step further and empower tenants and employees by allowing them to become Members. As a result, on 1st May 2016 MVH became a mutual housing organisation.

Their purpose is to carry on business for the benefit of the community – which they shape through a vision titled ‘Yfory’. I am always impressed by their core values as a mutual organisation – reflected in their structure of a democratic body, board and members. They are always looking for opportunities to build a circular local economy.

Taf Fechan co-operative housing

Given the history I have described it is perhaps no surprise that MVH also helped to nurture and develop the Taf Fechan housing co-operative. Before this intervention the Taf Fechan flats had in truth become undesirable, hard to let units, physically run down, vandalised and suffering anti-social behaviour.

Thankfully through the vision of MVH – 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.

These flats were retained, refurbished and the residents have formed a co-operative to run the block of flats. Those people who are now residents in the flats have to be members of the co-operative and therefore share a responsibility in the running of their homes. Vitally this means the residents taking ownership of their future, making communal decisions about the rent levels, maintaining their property and managing who moves into the flats.

I recently visited the flats and saw for myself the pride taken in their properties and the way in which they operate collectively to maintain their property.

In fact, they are just completing some improvements to their communal garden area, and had agreed within the co-operative the balance between the leisure space, and those members who wanted an opportunity to grow their own vegetables and plants.

It is also worth mentioning this co-operative approach has also seen a greater development in social bonds between members. So overall that’s better homes, a more cohesive community and stronger social bonds. A “win win win” in any regeneration process.

The wider context – 1001 co-operative homes

These local examples of course sit in a wider context of co-operative action.

I note that the Confederation of Co-operative Housing shares a similar view to my local experience in Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney. They recently published their findings about 1,001 co-operative and community led homes in the UK.

They point to the evidence that “across the country, people and communities are making their own housing, and neighbourhood solutions, making sustainable and lasting homes, building resilient and confident local communities, developing skills they never knew they had”.

Is co-operative housing the silver bullet to housing need in our communities?

The answer to such a question is of course – no. But what I will argue is that supporting and developing a mutual and co-operative approach can be an important part of the solution.

It sits within a set of actions that can help to meet housing need in our communities. It sees people taking control of the management of their homes-without the spectre or burden of satisfying the profit needs of shareholders.

In my experience it has seen the community strengthened – with both sustainable and caring values moving to the centre of housing solutions.

And that is why I will commend such models to the Welsh Government, and I hope to see mutual and co-operative housing solutions supported in the decade ahead.