RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2014

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145 Alternative housing in London (2): co-living, co-building and home
Convenor(s) Melissa Fernández Arrigoitia (The London School of Economics and Political Science, UK)
Kath Scanlon (The London School of Economics and Political Science, UK)
Chair(s) Leslie Barson (London Community Neighbourhood Co-operative (LCNC), UK)
Timetable Wednesday 27 August 2014, Session 4 (16:50 - 18:30)
Room Sherfield/SALC Building, Room H008A&B - DO NOT USE 2017
Session abstract London’s housing – of all tenures- is a sphere of growing inequality and unaffordability. Housing in the capital city is the most expensive in the country, there are more households than dwellings, an increasing number of potential households cannot form because of the extent of housing pressure and there is far more overcrowding than elsewhere (Whitehead and Travers 2012). The increased cost of home ownership and private renting has put them out of reach for many, while social housing and other accommodation options for the most vulnerable (like squatting) are either largely inaccessible or penalized. But this bleak context, and the larger political and economic crises framing it, also provides the setting for alternative logics and housing practices that are challenging traditional notions of private property. 

Experiments and utopian alternatives, like co-housing, or mutual home-ownership blur the boundaries between ‘the personal’ and ‘the shared’, as normally understood in the traditional (Western) individualised notion of home and dwelling. Their advocates are working actively towards more community-driven housing forms, using participative methods to foster engagement. At the same time, austerity measures have led some official housing policy (like, Community Right to Build) to incorporate the language of ‘sharing’, self-build or co-management in their own discourse. How do we reconcile these apparently diverging, yet coinciding trends? What insights do these emerging practices offer neo-liberal critiques of unequal property relations and urban regeneration? How do other alternatives, like squatting, fit into this picture?

 This panel addresses the policies and practices of alternative housing in London today. It is interested not only in the way these forms are emerging and taking place, but also in how (and why) these may be manifesting differently across distinct London geographies.
Linked Sessions Alternative housing in London (1): visions, values and strategies
Contact the conference organisers to request a change to session or paper details: AC2014@rgs.org
Five stories of alternative housing in London
Silvia Sitton (University of Modena and Reggio Emilia, Italy)
Starting from the interviews conducted with five Italians living in London, chosen as representative of different models of collaboration and sharing, the paper describes, with a narrative style, the London's alternative housing scene of today by five different points of view of people who do not know each other and that have very different life stories: a businessman of the City, expert in alternative investment strategies, with blood Neapolitan and a Baltic wife; a young contemporary art critic, boyfriend of a mature English art dealer and collector of the French writer Invader; a famous economist, keen about ethical economics and expert on terrorism; a girl escaped from the outskirts of Turin to follow the 1968 ideals of freedom and justice, who found asylum in the squatter habitat in London; and a middle-aged woman, employed in an advertising agency, with English husband and five children.
On the basis of subjective information collected, five maps of London's alternative housing will be drawn, which set the stories geographically.
The paper is also enriched with images of alternative housing posted on Instagram with the ashtag #London's_alternative_housing by the people involved by the five key interviewed persons, through word of mouth, in a sort of treasure hunt of the most interesting experiences of alternative housing. The collection of these images will be merged into a graphical representation of relational network that characterizes the alternative housing scene, in order to try to measure how much open (or closed) are the co-living and collaborative housing experiences in London.
Coming together for co-housing and self-build: changing understandings of home and home ownership in austerity London
Michaela Benson (Goldsmiths, University of London, UK)
This paper draws on ongoing ethnographic work with a prospective co-housing group in London who are currently exploring the possibilities for self-building in the capital. It documents the social constitution of the group and socio-economic characteristics of members; tracks their hopes and ambitions for the co-housing group and their future residence; and examines the alternative logics and housing practices that underpin these.

As becomes clear, London and its housing market (property ownership and rental) as well as individuals’ residential trajectories, provide important context for group membership and residential ambitions. The constraints on residential choice resulting from their position within the field of London housing undoubtedly influence their interest in and valuation of co-housing and self-build. On the one hand, these housing procurement practices are seen as ways of overcoming constraints on residential choice and getting on the housing ladder; home ownership has meaning for group members that reflects its wider valuation in British society (Saunders 1990). On the other hand, however, the pervasive interest in community-through-housing and the development of the group’s identity over time, indicates that such housing practices have additional meaning and significance to group members.

The paper thus presents an analysis of the (dis)continuities in understandings of home and home ownership for members of this prospective co-housing group, framed by the context of the wider London housing market and individual residential biographies. In this manner, it reveals how the constraints and opportunities of the wider housing market, and the cultural significance of home and home ownership intersect with co-housing as an alternative logic of housing.

Saunders, P. (1990) A Nation of Home Owners. London: Unwin Hyman.

Realising a cooperative right to build: Ambitions and constraints of a self-built housing cooperative in London
Giulia Toscani (-)
The London Community Neighbourhood Cooperative (LCNC) and the London Community Housing Cooperative (LCHC) are two connected projects of a multi- stakeholder cooperative and a housing one, founded by five English women in 2009 with the objective of realizing through self-build construction techniques forty to sixty affordable flats and a community centre in central London. LCNC recently applied to Community Right to Build funds but resulted not eligible due to the high commodification of land that makes hard for LCNC to have access to land and finance.

The research shows first how LCNC proposes an option that supports and engages in a process of democratization of housing, and secondly how the current policy framework of ‘Build Your Own Home- The London Way’ (£8 m government fund part of the Localism Act 2011) could make space for specific support to mutual and cooperative housing that combine self-build dimension with community intentions.
The appealing nature of a housing cooperative comes from the security of a rental model that responds to the limits of the current situation of the other tenure models in London.

I draw upon the theory of ‘associative democracy’ (Hirst, 1994) to discuss the role of self-built housing cooperatives and the one of the state in the provision of social housing and democratisation of the sector. I argue that besides the state and market, co-ops (now the .6% of the UK housing market) would represent the third component constituted by ‘community-based systems which are non-governmental and non-commercial’ (Turner, 1972: 14). The coop model is a non- profit driven affordable model that changes the power relations, which determine production and consumption of housing through the principle of dweller control in each phase of development.
The ‘Right to Build Community’ that I am proposing wants to be a strategic compromise that rebalances relations of power within the framework of a specific housing policy, challenging the rhetoric of the Big Society about ‘community’ and empowerment.
Alternative community? Notes from an emerging senior cohousing group in South London
Melissa Fernández Arrigoitia (The London School of Economics and Political Science, UK)
Kath Scanlon (The London School of Economics and Political Science, UK)
This paper will explore whether and how co-housing in London can be considered an alternative form of home-ownership by elaborating on the community-formation processes of a case study the authors have been following since 2011: an emerging senior co-housing group in South London. This co-housing group came together after the land and housing structure to be developed was bought by a Housing Association; and they have varying amounts of control over design and development processes. Based on our ethnographic research, we will examine what this on-going arrangement has meant for the economic, legal and social development of the co- housing project; and, more generally, what it means for rethinking forms of ownership in a drawn-out socio-technical development process. In particular, the paper will discuss issues that have been raised in Featherstone’s co-design process (in terms of shared living spaces and sustainable resources) and in group meetings regarding values, membership conditions, and future community living and management arrangements. Our discussion will problematise the public/private and individual/shared distinctions in light of how these have been raised, elaborated and adjusted over time by the group.
Leslie Barson (London Community Neighbourhood Co-operative (LCNC), UK)
Discussant, followed by audience discussion