Help us to Keep The Lights On for another decade! Back the Cable
The Bristol Cable

Bristol’s housing puzzle: self-help and mutual aid

Housing will present an unpleasant puzzle for Bristol’s next mayor, whoever they may be. Tessa Coombes offers solutions.

City

Housing will present an unpleasant puzzle for Bristol’s next mayor, whoever they may be. We asked three experts for their slant on tackling it.

When we talk about solving the housing crisis, we seldom talk about people taking control of providing their own home – through self-build, custom-build or housing co-operatives. The housing system has morphed into one of dependency on private landlords, house builders or the state. On the surface it seems our debates are short on creativity and innovation.

Dig deeper though and you’ll find all kinds of interesting projects, including less dependent housing provision. I’m talking about schemes shaped by residents, where people have taken back control.

Back in 1975, Bristol council’s then director of housing published a Green Paper called, ‘A Decent Home!! (A paper to stimulate thought and encourage participation so that policies can be evolved to tackle effectively the Housing problems of this great city).’

Perhaps it is time to encourage input from neighbourhoods across our city and revive a discussion that includes alternative housing solutions instead of focusing on a broken system. It could involve people who are seeking a decent home but can’t afford what’s on offer and have given up on social housing, which has been reduced to a residual service. It might be time to listen to those who have solutions that don’t support traditional mainstream approaches to housing – so have been marginalised.

Why don’t we talk about co-operative housing more? We have a great example here in Bristol that’s creating a sustainable model for converting empty office buildings into affordable homes. The Abolish Empty Office Buildings project proves that, even now, ordinary people can create social housing communities and produce a modest return for investors.

Why don’t we talk more about ‘kit housing’ or custom build, which is factory made, using more sustainable materials, cheaper and quicker to put up than bricks-and-mortar housing? There are many companies providing this, from the original and more expensive Huf Haus, to relative newcomers like Apple Green Homes and the local SNUG homes developed by Ecomotive.

Self-build might not be an option for many, but custom build and co-operative housing could be relevant to a wider audience and provide opportunities to people failed by our current approach.

Imagine if our city could pioneer developing these models further, using public land, property and resources to support individuals and communities. There’s a challenge here for Bristol to make this happen.

Tessa Coombes is a former planning consultant and south Bristol councillor, now studying for a PhD in social policy at Bristol University.

Elsewhere

Join 2,500 Cable members redefining local media

Your support will help the Cable grow, deepening our connections in the city and investigating the issues that matter most in our communities.

Join now

What makes us different?

Comments

Report a comment. Comments are moderated according to our Comment Policy.

Post a comment

Mark if this comment is from the author of the article

By posting a comment you agree to our Comment Policy.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Related content

How a media backlash led to a St Paul’s woman’s dramatic release from prison

In 1933 Mary Burridge, a poor mother of five, was sentenced to a month’s hard labour after stealing a few items of food at Easter. But after a national outcry over her treatment, a wealthy lawyer flew to Cardiff to free her from prison.

Whistleblowers reveal institutional racism at local NHS trust

A Cable investigation spanning months has uncovered that complaints of institutional racism at University Hospitals Bristol and Weston NHS Trust went unheard, despite promises from management to tackle the issue.

Cities of the future must prioritise the health of people and the planet

Preventing ill-health from poor-quality urban environments, and promoting fairness, are at the heart of a project Bristol is helping to lead.

Rising demand and falling donations causing shortages at Bristol food banks

The cost of living crisis means more people need food banks – but fewer are donating. The Cable spoke to organisations across the city trying to help the growing number of households who can't afford to eat.

Julz Davis: checking in on Martin Luther King’s dream

Campaigner Julz Davis speaks to the Cable about his Race for Power project to improve racial equity in Bristol, the UK's seventh most unequal city.

Cooking up a storm: The project tackling Bristol’s rising food poverty

The Mazi Project provides pre-portioned meal kits to marginalised young people to address food poverty in the city.

Join our newsletter

Get the essential stories you won’t find anywhere else

Subscribe to the Cable newsletter to get our weekly round-up direct to your inbox every Saturday

Join our newsletter

Subscribe to the Cable newsletter

Get our latest stories & essential Bristol news
sent to your inbox every Saturday morning