Leeds , United Kingdom

Improving Housing, Empowering Communities: Incorporating Multiculturalism Into Urban Planning

Leeds Housing Strategy Office

February 10, 2009

A local housing strategy uses a multi-stakeholder, participatory approach and helps set a strategic community agenda for local government

The housing debate in global city centers has traditionally been about affordability and availability. However, changing demographics are starting to shift the parameters of this discussion. Increasingly, local government authorities must ask themselves whether housing services meet the needs of all immigrant and ethnic minority communities in the city.

Located in the West Yorkshire region of England, Leeds is a diverse city where 11% of the population is made up of a wide range of ethnic communities, including Black Caribbean, Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Chinese, Irish and Jewish. With European integration and the increasing settlement of asylum seekers, the diversity of the city’s population is expected to increase further.

These coming changes, in addition to the present need, led to the creation of The Leeds Housing Partnership, a public and private partnership of landlords, voluntary housing organization and members of the local authorities.

This group came together around the recognition that housing and housing providers could directly contribute to community cohesion and economic regeneration by actively engaging and considering the needs of ethnic and minority groups during the consultative and strategic planning processes.

As a result and as part of the overall Leeds Housing Strategy of 2005 – 2010, The Leeds Housing Partnership released the, “Black and Minority Ethnic Housing Strategy and Action Plan” which was embedded in the Vision for Leeds II 2004 – 2010 (which is the master plan that will guide urban development in Leeds in the coming years).

The impact of this plan is that it focuses exclusively on the needs and concerns of local residents specifically from the most disadvantaged (BME) communities.

Currently, the BME community in Leeds is concentrated in the poorest parts of the city. BME households are more likely to live in poor housing conditions than British White households. Much of the rented accommodations that house the BME population in Leeds is pre-1919 housing stock that is in very poor condition. As a result, this community is more likely to live in overcrowded homes or properties with no central heating, that suffer from damp or that are in need of general repair. For instance, the 2001 Census shows that 38% of BME’s live in dwellings with no central heating and 13% have only partial heating. As a result of extended families, 61% live in houses that are too small to meet the needs of their families.

The Approach…
With the development of a Black and Minority Ethnic Housing Strategy and Action Plan, the BME Housing Strategy will help to narrow the gap between the most disadvantaged people and communities and the rest of the city.

A key aspect to achieving the goals outlined in the BME Housing Strategy is to ensure that language and cultural barriers do not restrict the understanding of housing options, access to social housing or the involvement in consultation processes.

As it develops, the BME Housing Strategy and Action proposes to address these key issues by ensuring that housing providers deliver services that are sensitive to both culture and religion. To do this, they are developing profiles of the cultural and faith needs of each community and incorporating these in to the service planning and the design of new homes. The ME Housing Strategy will also look to increase BME staff representation in housing providers at all levels and use outreach activities to recruit more board members from the BME community.

The BME Housing Strategy and Action plan will also improve access to housing services by providing information in a range of formats and community languages. This will help those from new communities to be able to make informed choices on where they want to live. An orientation service to help members of the BME community to integrate into the local community will also be developed.

Newsletters and increased publicity around community events will also be used to increase BME participation in tenant and resident involvement.

Equitable housing that acknowledges problems or needs of specific communities can help create a common vision and sense of belonging for all communities and reinforce the sense that regardless of background, similar opportunities are available for all.

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Making it Work for You:

  • Make sure that language and cultural barriers do not restrict the understanding of housing options, access to social housing or the involvement in the consultation processes.
  • Consider what barriers to full community participation may be in place and contact your local respresentative to see what can be done about it.
  • Equitable housing that acknowledges the needs of specific communities can help create a common vision and sense of belonging for all and contribute to greater social cohesion.
  • Ask yourself what your local government is doing to involve a greater number of community voices in the planning, budgeting and development of your neighborhood or town. Find out how you can support initiatives like this.