Towards a Housing Commons?
An historical exploration of mutual home ownership in Liverpool
Matthew Thompson
PhD student, University of Manchester
PhD Research

Historical study of different models and campaigns for mutual
ownership of housing in Liverpool

Understanding social, political and institutional conditions shaping
the development of mutual housing initiatives

Questioning what we mean by ‘successful development’ of such
initiatives – what is mutual ownership of housing meant to
achieve, and for who?

Currently undertaking historical analysis and case study research –
about to conduct 40 semi-structured interviews

This paper theorises mutual ownership of housing as a housing
‘commons’ and presents initial research to unpack implications
What does mutual ownership of
housing have in common?

Third way of ownership/provision: neither public nor private

Voluntary membership of residents in housing association

Capture of land value locally for member residents


Recycle social surplus back into association to subsidise housing costs
Perpetually affordable housing held in trust for future generations

Collective, democratic decision-making: self-government

Potentially radical alternative - but divergence in political
radicalism across different models:

Squatting, Cooperatives, Co-housing, Self-build, Tenant co-partnership,
Community Gateway, Community Land Trusts, Development Trusts
Why now?
Contemporary Catalysts

Housing Crisis and (un)affordability


Privatisation of Public Housing



average house price to earnings ratio doubling from just 2.7 to 1 a decade ago to
5.4 to 1 in 2005 (Wilcox, 2005).
‘Wobbly pillar’ of welfare state – third of all provision in 1970s, now only 18%
Council housing ‘residualisation’ – Right to Buy and Stock transfer to RSLs
Austerity Localism?



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Public sector cuts since 2008 financial crisis – offloading of services
Withdrawal of state funding of large-scale regeneration (e.g. HMR)
Localism and Big Society (Community Rights to Buy/Build/Bid)
Cross-party political support and funding for asset transfer to communities
(Quirk Review)
Rationale for mutual alternatives
1)
Exploitation

2)
Alienation

3)
Council housing residualisation, public/absentee landlordism
Displacement


Housing crisis, speculation, lack of access to affordable housing
Gentrification, state-led regeneration demolition (e.g. HMR)
Due to separation of producer and consumer of housing:
“The capital-relation presupposes a complete separation between the workers and the
ownership of the conditions for the realisation of their labour… So-called primitive
accumulation, therefore, is nothing else than the historical process of divorcing the
producer from the means of production” Marx (1990) Capital vol. I, p.874-5
Reclaiming a Housing Commons?

Capitalism predicated on enclosure of commons



Mutual housing as a form of commons




Initial acts of enclosure – dispossession of commoners from land
Ongoing enclosure – privatisation of public housing, commodification
Affordable housing as shared resource held in trust for future users
De-commodification – reconnecting producer and consumer of housing
Collective, cooperative self-government – social practices of commoning
‘Common Right’ over a housing commons?


Use value over exchange value
CLT community rights to ‘unearned social increment’ supersedes
individuals’ ‘right to speculate’ and on mutually produced value
Contradictions [1]

‘Common Right’ vs…

Based on specificity of community / collective

Moral claim over commons derived from legitimate interest of mutual use,
production, inhabitation, embeddedness and interaction in community


Intrinsic legitimacy from negotiation among users – self-government
Private Property Rights

Based on universality of citizenship / individualistic

Abstract legal entitlement to access property, resources

Extrinsic legitimacy from appeal to higher authority (state) to adjudicate on
and meet claims
Contradictions [2]

Inside vs. Outside





Commons necessarily implies an ‘outside’
Inevitable exclusion of some potential users
Territorial and membership boundaries
Rules regulating access
Inclusion vs. Exclusion



Internally oppressive power relations
Externally exclusive inward-looking groups that limit membership
and refuse participation from most in need
Competition between housing commons for scarce resources (land)
Contradictions [3]


Internal Autonomy vs. External Dependence

Reliance on state support – legislation, funding, public land transfer

Inserted into capitalist land markets – acquisition of land
Horizontality vs. Verticality

Needs intermediary organisations for skills, training, funding,
knowledge sharing – e.g. National CLT Network, secondary coops

Partnership working with professional organisation for expert advice
Contradictions [4]

Radical Alterity vs. Accommodation / Co-optation
Source: (Hodkinson, 2012)
Contradictions [5]

Bottom-up campaign vs…


Commons associated with radical grassroots activism
Top-down policy solution

State support of mutual ownership as alternative to public provision

Plug gap left by retreating state – community self-help

Community Rights to Buy/Build/Bid

Empty Homes Fund and Self-build funding
Contradictions [6]


Prefigurative Politics vs….

Proactive practices towards more progressive social relations – utopian!

Activist campaigns for ideological agendas (e.g. Green, Commons)

Associated with middle class groups – elective belonging (Savage, 2010)
Social Necessity

Reactive to state or market failures in provision

Community campaigns as responses to fulfil essential needs (housing)

Bespoke solutions to particular problems (displacement, affordability)

Associated with working class communities – elective fixity (Paton, 2012)
Liverpool case studies

Garden City movement
1910

Housing Cooperative movement
1977
1984
1987

Wavertree Garden Suburb
Weller Streets Housing Coop – UK’s
first resident-owned self-build coop
Eldonian Housing Coop , UK’s largest
community-owned housing trust today
Langrove Community Housing Coop
Contemporary CLT movement
2012
Homebaked – UK’s first urban CLT
Granby Four Streets CLT campaign
Little Klondyke CLT campaign
Liverpool case studies:
Reactive campaigns to state ‘ out of necessity’

1970s coop campaigns – responses to demolition threat


1976 Liberal council tenement demolition programme – 57 ‘slum clearance
areas’, included Weller Streets group and Eldonians’ Portland Gardens Coop
1983-87 Militant Council’s Urban Regeneration Strategy


Municipalised 7 housing coops (including Eldonians’ Portland Gardens)
Galvanised Eldonians into community activism – ‘Self-Regenerating
Community’ bid for Tate & Lyle site eventually successful with funding


Langrove Street Action Group formed in 1986 to oppose council’s plans to
demolish houses for Everton Park development


But hostile council refused planning permission – overturned in planning inquiry
Occupation of houses led to successful establishment of housing coop
2003-11 Housing Market Renewal Pathfinder

CLT campaigns to acquire empty homes under community ownership
Realising a Housing Commons?
Liverpool’s 1970s cooperative movement

Successful partnerships and external support – Eldonians






Merseyside Improved Housing (MIH) professional support – pro bono work,
expert advice, leadership, initially proposed coop idea
Thatcher government support – extension of Merseyside Dev. Corp.
boundaries, funding for land acquisition set up by ‘Minister for Merseyside’
Support from English Estates (landowner) and Housing Corp. (funder)
Engages with wider community, plans for expansion, knowledge sharing
Internationally recognised – 2004 UN World Habitat Award
Dangers of radical independence – Weller Streets Coop




Gulf between ideologically radical leading members and other residents
Only new-build to remain aggressively independent managing own services
Rejection of CDS support as secondary coop; failure of own secondary coop
Rejection of partnerships with other coops or Housing Corp – no funding
Realising a Housing Commons?
Liverpool’s contemporary CLT movement

Homebaked CLT, Anfield

Genesis as art project for Liverpool Biennial

Success in social media and fundraising campaign
Won 2012 CLT Network Award
Designed by URBED who also did HMR masterplan



Granby Four Streets, Toxteth



Application to government’s Empty Homes Fund
Working with city council, RSLs Plus Dane and
Liverpool Mutual Homes, city police on steering group
Little Klondyke CLT, Bootle


Working with charity Maritime Community
Development Agency
Refusal of Sefton Council to approve otherwise
successful application to DCLG for £5m funding
Commons as interdependence

Struggle for housing commons depends on external support


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
Trade-off: political independence vs. successful institutionalisation




Internal autonomy of commons dialectically related to external
authority of state and market
Reliant on state support – legislation, funding, public land transfer
Local autonomy as mutual relationship with state – not freedom from
state control
Radical independence leads to marginalisation and co-optation
Danger of New Enclosures and Militant Particularism
Need Connections between housing commons for solidarity and
support
Challenge of creating successful, progressive, inclusive commons
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