This blog is by Rob Greenland, co-director of Social Business Brokers CIC.

In the mid 1990s I spent a year volunteering in Ecuador. There was an election the year I was there.  To be honest, there was an election most years in Ecuador around that time.  Ecuadoreans were enduring a period of political turmoil that all of a sudden feels quite familiar.

To this day I remember the campaign slogan of one of the candidates.  Pan. Techo.  Trabajo.  Food, Housing, Work.  How quaint, I thought, from my slightly patronising, pretty naïve, post-colonial perspective.  A Presidential candidate promising no more than what most of us would consider to be the basics of life. 

But look at our country now. Of course, the levels of poverty that we experience here are nothing compared to what many people face in poor countries around the world.  But it’s increasingly clear that politicians here are really struggling to find answers to many of the big social problems that we face. 

Food on the table.  Affordable housing. A decent, well-paid job. Pan, Techo, Trabajo.   Not to mention climate change, health inequalities, or any of the other big social issues that probably keep you awake at night too.

So what is a social entrepreneur to do?  Personally I’ve never been particularly party-political – in fact part of my interest in social enterprise has come from a reaction against politics.  When I’ve sat down and thought about what I can do change things, I’ve tended to try to get involved in setting businesses up, making things happen – rather than join a political party.   

But of course I vote.  And of course politics matters, massively.  It matters a lot when you look at the main issue I’m currently involved with – housing.  I helped to set up Empty Homes Doctor in 2012 – a service to help owners of empty properties in Leeds to bring them back into use.  Thanks to Leeds City Council support, we’ve helped to bring back into use over 200 long-term empty homes in the last four years.  Homes that were causing people problems, now house families. 

And over the last couple of years I’ve been involved in helping to set up Leeds Community Homes – a new Community Land Trust that aims to create 1000 affordable homes in our city over the next ten years.  Earlier this year we raised over £360,000 through a community share offer – to put towards our first sixteen People Powered Homes.

It’s the people power angle that interests me most.  We as citizens have to get more involved in coming up with solutions to some of the big issues that we face.  And people who hold power have to make it easier for the rest of us to get meaningfully involved. 

If you look at our housing market, it’s obvious that volume housebuilders are never going to build affordable homes at the scale and pace that we need. We need other ways to build more affordable housing.  That, of course, should include freeing up councils to build more homes, and getting behind Housing Associations to help them to build more affordable homes too.

But we need other approaches too.  Schemes like Leeds Community Homes, London CLT & Bristol CLT are finding new ways to create permanently affordable homes.  Such schemes may often be small scale – building ten homes here or twenty homes there – when a big developer might promise 500 homes on one site.  But if we can encourage far more people to consider getting involved in meeting their own housing needs, then all those smaller schemes soon start to add up. 

I’d like to see the next Government recognise the potential for local people to work together to create housing in their villages, towns and cities.  Too often the only involvement that people end up having is campaigning to block poor quality housing development in their neighbourhoods. 

It’d be better for all of us if we could encourage and support people to develop community-led schemes to provide affordable housing. To enable the community-led housing sector to flourish, a future Government should commit to the following:

  1. Keep the Community Housing Fund – working with the sector to develop the Fund over the next few years
  2. Ensure that community-led housing groups are not affected by Right To Buy
  3. Continue to explore how to develop a more positive policy environment for community-led housing

Our housing crisis requires all sorts of big Government interventions.  Making it easier for people to take control of meeting their housing needs should be one of them.

>> Find out more about Empty Homes Doctor and Leeds Community Homes