The right homes in the right places - a resident-led approach to development
Margaret’s 93. She’s one of our first residents at Hazelhurst Court, our new extra care scheme and first residential development. If you were to meet her, she’d tell you how pleased she is with her new home. She’d also tell you why she was pleased to leave her old one:
“It was a lovely flat, three bedrooms and a garden, but I didn’t need all that space. It was a waste and I couldn’t get in and out on my own. You could have had a family living there. I’ve known what it’s like to be homeless, to live in one room with four kids.”
The housing crisis is felt acutely here in Lewisham, south London, where our 6,200 homes are located. Most are on large 1920s cottage estates, with generous gardens and green spaces. Meanwhile, there are thousands of households on Lewisham Council’s waiting list, with a significant proportion of our residents living in overcrowded accommodation.
Yet Margaret’s experience is all too common. We identified more than a thousand of our properties under-occupied by residents over 55.
So in developing our first new homes, we felt it important to assess any potential scheme not just in terms of units and tenure, but against the context of local need and the impact on local people.
Our ambition to build new homes is a natural part of our evolution. Over our first 10 years we’ve used our model of resident leadership and involvement to drive a grassroots programme to regenerate our area, through employment and training initiatives to projects like our Lottery-funded restoration of a local pub into a new cultural venue. We’ve encouraged ideas from the community, listened and responded to their concerns and invited people to be involved throughout the process.
Now we’ve secured £60m of investment to build up to 200 new homes, which will unlock the potential for much larger scale developments in our area. And we’re determined to apply the same principles of community involvement and leadership.
We want to build the right kind of homes, in the right places, that make best use of our existing homes and have a tangible and real benefit to local residents. And it’s only by involving residents at every level, from our board downwards, that we’ll truly understand that local need and desire.
Back at Hazelhurst Court, we knew we had to deliver high quality homes that presented a compelling incentive for older residents like Margaret to move. We also knew the new homes would have the potential to release scores of large family homes that are in huge demand across our area.
Thanks to a shared vision for chain lettings with the local authority, our first lets have already enabled 25 subsequent moves for Phoenix tenants, generating further chain lettings for 18 households. All of a sudden we have two, three, four bedroom properties being used by families who really need them, and we’re keen to explore local lettings options for other new developments.
We won’t convince everyone, of course. We know there will be planning objections and opposition ahead. But by remaining open, inclusive and transparent about our ambitions – engaging with residents at every step, maintaining high quality design, and showing the benefit to others in the community – we hope we will start to win their hearts and minds.
Phoenix exists because a group of pioneering tenants dreamt that a community of high deprivation could improve itself by drawing on the talents and energy of those within it. It was always a world away from gentrification, or the creation of lonely housing units.
Ten years later, tenants remain at our helm. Some of the dream has now been delivered but the dream remains. We want to fulfil our vision of building a better future for our community – for Margaret, for her children and grandchildren, for the family just moving into her home, and for those who’ve waited years for housing in our borough. It’s so exciting that we can now start to build that better future in the most literal way.
This blog was first published by the National Housing Federation in June 2018.