How councils could support more intergenerational households through community-led housing

Fed up with renting short-term, unsuitable and badly managed accommodation with his family, Ameen Lilani set up a housing cooperative with other families in Harrow. Here he calls for more local authorities to support community-led housing schemes that enable intergenerational households.  

Having a roof over your head is a basic human need, but families in the London Borough of Harrow are struggling with the instability that comes with short term rental contracts that can end within eight weeks. These families have little hope in the current housing climate of moving into permanent accommodation that suits their needs, family size or budget. Renting for families can also come with side effects such as bad management, lack of repair and often living in small and cramped accommodation which leave people, especially those with children (young and grown up) or older family members feeling stressed, and living on top of one another. Yet multigenerational households can bring many benefits including help with childcare, support and care for elder relatives, and health and wellbeing benefits of increased social interactions which tackle loneliness and isolation, as shown by the popular Channel 4 ‘Old People’s Homes for four-year-olds’ documentary shows.  Indeed, as the Mixing Matters by United for All Ages report, published today, states “Living together means shared activities and experiences and thereby real connections between the generations.”

And although research compiled by the NHBC Foundation shows that more than 1.8 million households in Britain contain two or more adult generations, most homes on the market continue to be built to a traditional family home layout, without consideration for the shift towards multigenerational living. After having moved several times and been evicted, I knew it was time to take matters into the local community’s hands. I initially consulted with five other families I knew well in Harrow. We then came together to discuss our collective problems with rented accommodation. This is where the idea of community-led housing first appeared and we settled on forming a housing cooperative, so we could access finance.

Our vision is that our housing cooperative will run as a community business, responsible for construction, maintenance, finance and security of the properties. Our aim is that properties built on the site will not see any price appreciation and will be rented at truly affordable rates that reflect the current economic climate in austerity Britain. Accommodation will also cater for families that need three to four bedrooms where the family can thrive and grow, rather than one to two bed flats currently built by the private and public sectors.

Intergenerational community-led housing, already popular in the USA, Singapore and Japan, would help alleviate housing shortages, contribute to local and national government targets to build housing, as well as cater to people who are currently living in unsuitable accommodation.

At the end of 2017, the government announced a £240 million investment over four years to support community-led housing which is fantastic. But I would welcome councils to be more proactive about support community-led housing initiatives like ours to acquire land. That’s our biggest obstacle. Councils already have to assess how land will be used by the community, but could more explicitly prioritise community-led housing. We need land to start our project but can’t compete with the private sector unless we settle for scraps like garage sites. We’re hoping some land becomes available to us soon so we can start to address some very real problems, and deliver the affordable multigenerational housing our community desperately needs.