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Assessing need

This section offers advice about how to design and undertake housing needs assessments for community-led housing projects.

  • The Government provides general guidance for local authorities on undertaking housing needs assessments, largely in conjunction with market and land availability assessments. It advises using secondary rather than primary sources and provides information about relevant secondary national sources such as census and national household survey data. 
  • However, providing community-led housing is, by its nature, a local activity and evidence of local need will be an important factor in securing support for it. This level of information is not usually available from local authority-wide housing needs assessments. Primary data, such as through a local housing needs survey, may therefore have an important role in providing an evidence base for CLH
  • Local authorities and housing associations will be familiar with the design and delivery of housing needs surveys. Numerous examples of paper and online surveys and of survey reports are available online. Included in this section is an example of a housing needs survey used to support a small CLH scheme

In summary the kinds of survey methods used to assess local housing need may include the following:

  • Secondary data gathering

    • National data such as census, national household or the Index of Multiple Deprivation
    • Local data from e.g. district or ward profiles, waiting lists etc
  • Primary data gathering
    • On line surveys
    • Postal surveys
    • Door to door or telephone surveys
    • Surgeries, drop-ins or focus group sessions

Housing needs surveys are a key feature of housing schemes on Rural Exception sites, including those that are community-led.

The Rural Housing Enablers Network, with the backing of the Rural Housing Alliance and ACRE, has produced detailed guidance which may be of use. The guidance sets out core principles for the production of robust and influential rural housing needs assessments:

  • The process is objective and evidence based
  • It is independent and balanced
  • Primary data collection processes are open, fair and transparent
  • Any secondary data used is up to date and relevant
  • Data is anonymous, and confidentiality and data protection requirements are met 
  • The local community is informed, invited to participate and able to access the results
  • Reports are accessible and written in plain English with data sources made clear
  • Reports are made publicly available
  • A process for updating the data is available
  • It is acknowledged that an assessment is part of an ongoing process of scheme development

The last point above emphasises the fact that undertaking a housing needs assessment is also part of other partnership building and community engagement aspects of the development of a CLH scheme.

Finally, not all community-led housing starts off being geographically based. Some groups, particularly those pursuing cohousing schemes, involve people with a common interest – the OWCH scheme for older women in North London is a good example, whilst LGBT groups are increasingly looking to cohousing to meet their needs.  Housing needs assessments may not be an appropriate or useful way of identifying actual need for such groups and consequently it is important that local authorities do not let them ‘slip through the net’ when drawing up housing delivery strategies.

Assessing demand

In some local authority areas, the demand for community-led housing is already quite buoyant; community groups and other CLH organisations come forward readily with proposals to the local authority or requests for help in finding land and/or funding. But in other areas, particularly those with no or only a limited track record of community-led schemes, interest may need to be generated by the local authority itself, either alone or in partnership with others. The first step is then to assess the level of demand there might be.

Taking a strategic look at the issue before embarking on any local demand assessment makes a lot of sense. Questions it may be useful to consider include:

  • Who might champion the growth of CLH in the local authority or across the region?
  • What support can be expected from key national agencies, such as Homes England?
  • How does CLH fit with existing local authority housing and planning strategies?
  • What role can the new Combined Authorities play in promoting CLH?
  • Are there any groupings of organisations and individuals involved with CLH which can be used to promote the sector more widely and, if so, how could local authorities best support them?
  • Are there best practice examples of CLH in the area and, if so, how can their experiences best be communicated to others?
  • Is there scope for collaboration to develop a regional or sub-regional CLH strategy?
  • If efforts to stimulate demand are successful, how will emerging CLH groups be supported?
  • Is there internal and/or external capacity within the local authority or the region to provide the support necessary to help CLH initiatives get off the ground?

The steps that individual local authorities might usefully take to properly assess the level of demand for CLH are:

  1. Task an appropriate local authority officer to take the lead
  2. If appropriate, partner with other local authorities to agree a joint approach to assess the demand for community-led housing
  3. Explore external funding opportunities for a scoping study and make funding applications
  4. Commission an external scoping study to identify opportunities for new developments and raise awareness and understanding amongst a broad range of local stakeholders, particularly communities, local authorities and housing associations
  5. Organise an information event to publicise community-led housing and provide examples of how it has been successfully delivered elsewhere
  6. Carry out a survey of town and parish councils, perhaps working with a Rural Community Council or a local community anchor organisation in the area
  7. Talk directly to those communities that may already be involved in producing a Parish or Neighbourhood Plan that has a housing component
  8. Through steps 6 and/or 7, identify those communities that may have an interest in community-led housing
  9. Hold a set of community-led housing workshops, targeting communities identified in Step 8 plus other interested organisations and using specialist CLH advisors  to make presentations
  10. Generate an initial set of pilot projects that the local authority would be prepared to support
Last updated in April 2018