By John Gillespie
The year is 1981. Deprivation and the police’s racial profiling have contributed to riots across the “Liverpool 8” area of the city. In the aftermath, police stamp through the streets of Liverpool armed with riot shields and caged vans. At least one person is dead, and many more end up in jail cells. However, it is more than burnt out cars and smashed windows that have been left behind. The disturbance has added “undesirability” to the already long list of issues gripping the area in a seemingly inescapable chokehold. With the local council’s failure to invest in the area and a lack of incoming residents, the houses and streets have become ever more dilapidated and await demolition. And with this, more and more people are forced to relocate from their family homes.
The year is 2011. Armed with passion and a community spirit, a group of local residents of Granby, part of the Liverpool 8 area, have founded the Granby Four Streets Community Land Trust (GFSCLT). The Granby Trust’s purpose is to develop social housing by renovating empty rundown houses and letting them out to local residents at an affordable price. The Council sells a series of empty properties otherwise awaiting demolition, for renovation by the Trust for £1 GBP per property. The receipt of a negligible price for public property is logical for the Council when the cost of revitalising the forgotten Granby to the lively and welcoming Granby of old is to be met by the financial support of a handful of private citizens backing the work of the Trust.
The result in 2018? The Granby Trust has defied the lasting consequences on the housing market from the global credit crunch, and the hugely successful Granby project has accrued national acclaim and a Turner Prize for the work of the project’s architects.
It seems the success of the Granby Trust lies in its identification of the root of the problem: it was the Council’s failure to provide liveable housing in the area that meant people left Granby by force, and the soul of the Granby community was allowed to decay with it. It was not from a desire of Granby’s residents to live elsewhere in the city. The Granby Trust saw that the exodus itself had a snowball effect, as “empties” proliferated more “empties”, and that this could be combated by the rousing benefits of social housing.
Hazel Tilley, a spokesperson for the Granby Trust says:
“Community does not start with a house, it starts with people.”
With this in mind, the Granby Trust has set terms for the tenancy agreements for the newly refurbished social housing vacancies: tenants must be local residents, they must be low- to mid-earners, and they must have a genuine interest and passion for the Granby area. The Granby Trust’s property portfolio has now grown to encompass four streets across the Granby area, with bright flowers and art bursting from the gardens of people once again proud to call Granby home.
Everyone is a winner with such an example of social housing. A community is saved, the mental and physical welfare of its residents is rejuvenated, the local economy flourishes as a result, and the the local council hence reaps the benefits of this. But most fundamentally, the aggressive gentrification of an inexpensive area of a city is avoided, which is all too common by allowing a local council to simply sweep a problem under the carpet, or to another part of the city. Indeed, gentrification often goes unopposed, as the victims of such a process are often least able to voice their opposition, politically or financially.
Hence, social housing can be an extremely effective method to combat class discrimination in society. The upward spiral of the price of city land is inevitable, and along with this the sale of land to private developers by city councils to raise capital is also inevitable. But based on the success of the Granby Trust, the construction of (or regeneration of old properties into) forms of social housing ought to be seriously considered by policymakers seeking to deal with housing shortages in urban areas in cities around Europe.
It is true that the construction of social housing would not be cheap. It is true that without the input of private financial backers like those supporting Granby Trust, the money to construct social housing would need to come from the public purse, where this money could alternatively be spent on additional funding for schools or hospitals. However, it should be borne in mind that with people now living and working across four streets of Granby that were previously largely vacant, Liverpool City Council will be bringing in tax revenue that can now be put to use in the local community in whatever fashion suitable. As people refill homes in a local neighbourhood, “desirability” is rediscovered, with its own snowball effect, and more people will follow suit throughout the surrounding area. As well as unifying and reunifying communities in a fair way, then, social housing can eventually pay for itself.
Governments and local councils should invest more in social housing simply because it works, as represented by the success of Hazel and her contemporaries. On an island surrounded by an ocean of despair, the Granby Trust has taught the Granby area to fish, and so its residents shall feed themselves for a lifetime.
Image: Toa Heftiba