Polly Lamb looks at how our local CLT enabler hub Middlemarch and nearby CLT Marshfield are affected by the government’s silence on funding for community led housing.
Steve Watson from Middlemarch (left) advises the Frome Area Community Land Trust Project Group

All eyes are now on the government to see if the Community Housing Fund (CHF) will be reinstated, now that the new cabinet has formed. All community-led housing groups and Community Land Trusts need funding to develop their projects. Because of the ethos behind CLTs, groups share ways of accessing it with others and CLTs have support from enabler hubs that give solid advice on funding.

Frome Area Community Land Trust (FACLT) has the excellent support of Middlemarch which is one of the UK’s 25 enabler hubs for community housing projects, partly funded by the CHF. The advisors at Middlemarch provide technical support for CLTs who need help driving their project through the system. In the spring, after the Community Housing Fund closed, they started firing up those groups to write to their local MPs to reinstate financial support for Community Led housing. 

Colin Mc Donald, Associate at Middlemarch said of the funding issues, “As a sector we have suffered from the ‘stop/go’ nature of national subsidy and the best example of this is the way in which the Community Housing Fund was opened for such a short window last year – inevitably reducing the number of schemes that could access it (& use the money in time!).”

Shared Ownership

The Nationwide Foundation offers grants for community housing projects and their message is that CLTs who are mid-build can find their developments at risk without continued government finance. To discover how a lack of funding might have a direct effect on these CLTs, I spoke to Jim Brookes, a director of Marshfield CLT. Marshfield is a village 20 miles north of Frome and has an active community housing project being developed that was initially funded by the Community Housing Fund. Jim talked me through the development so far and explained how delays have affected costs.

He said that their plans to fund some of the project by including 3 properties available to buy on the open market are no longer viable. This is due to rising building costs combined with a potential drop-off in the market. He said ‘The housing association we have partnered with was becoming increasingly nervous about the risk of the housing market falling back. Cost increases had wiped out any financial benefit from the market homes. The net effect was that the Housing Association was prepared to take on those houses and we have now included them in our scheme as shared ownership and they will stay within the CLT.’

Escalating Prices

In that instance, it was lucky that the housing association had a solution but Marshfield has encountered other hurdles that could be down to the current financial climate. Issues like building suppliers going out of business and having to re-tender for elements of the project because the original costs budgeted for became unviable. Jim said “Even before Covid, Brexit had started to cause trouble with building supplies but Covid led to labour shortages and delays, causing prices to escalate.”

Not the right moment to hear that the Community Housing Fund was missing from the government budget then. 

With major events like the implementation of a new Prime Minister and the death of the Queen, the community housing sector is unlikely to be holding its collective breath for an announcement about imminent funding. However, there is strength in numbers and people who care deeply about the issue can still write to their MPs to request Commons support.