Last week, members of the Communities Creating Homes team joined 2,100 social housing providers, policymakers, city representatives, urbanists, architects, researchers, NGOs, and activists, to take part in the International Social Housing Festival in Barcelona. Across 3 days of the conference, we met, learned from, and were repeatedly inspired by representatives from across the world; all of whom are working to build a housing system rooted in justice and sustainability for everyone in their towns, cities and beyond.
Housing challenges that we face in Wales are not unique. Market-driven development and the domination of housing provision for profit, alongside the retraction of the public sector in the supply of housing were mentioned time and time again by speakers from across Europe. But amongst the challenges, we also heard hopeful stories from cities like Barcelona, who are introducing innovative policies to restore people’s right to decent housing. For example, the acquisition of buildings to turn them into homes, the use of sustainable methods of construction to ensure those homes are made in line with our planet’s boundaries, the mobilisation of private housing to provide affordable rental homes to undo decades of soaring housing costs, as well as financial and logistical support for community-led housing as an essential and exciting model to put homes back into communities’ hands.
Key to the changes in Barcelona is Ada Colau, the Mayor, who has consolidated a “shift in the cultural paradigm of housing”, utilizing housing policies at her disposal to deliver for residents. This shift was a key theme in the conference and was similarly reflected in the opening speech of President of Housing Europe Bent Madsen explaining that “…housing is a platform for participation, not profit“. This aligns with our vision at Cwmpas – where communities are in control of housing that is responsive to their needs, not those of the shareholders of developers.
The session we ran was titled “Mastering words as a way to overcome one part of the housing crisis” and aimed to respond to one part of that transition. Communication is an important tool for us to engage with diverse communities and garner popular support for community-led solutions to the housing crisis. In the spirit of co-operation that runs through our work at Cwmpas, the ISHF organizers brought together a group of collaborators, that included Cwmpas, Housing Europe, Den Haag, the Hague city authority, and GHS, the Federation of Public, Private and Cooperative & Social Housing promoters and managers in Catalonia to deliver an event on the power of communication to develop a better housing system, where communities and residents are centred in conversations. In front of an audience of 125 people from all around the world, we heard inspiring stories and messages from policy leaders that have cut through the noise and triggered action – and we would like to say a big thanks to our partners and speakers for their contributions to this successful event.
It was incredible to hear our beliefs of community-led housing as central to a mixed housing strategy being mirrored across the festival, and with a specific track of sessions focussed solely on Community-Led Housing, there was plenty of learning to be taken from others. Topics included developing new co-operative finance models, drawing in political will, building community involvement, and using sustainable building methods. We will be able to draw on this learning, to bring innovations to the Community-Led Housing movement in Wales. The final day of the conference brought the launch of the European Community Land Trust – and with it a stronger and more joined up movement across the continent – it was fantastic to celebrate this moment with CLTs from across the UK and Europe.
It takes political will, dedication, and time, as well as adequate and targeted investment to ensure that communities have access to quality homes that allow them to have a decent life. We hope that affordable housing providers, policymakers, city representatives, and urbanists from across Wales continue looking outwards – there’s so much to be learned from the policy innovations happening abroad which could provide a template for how we instil housing justice in our communities here at home.