Forever Affordable: Community-Led Housing

Post its from our Affordable Housing tag asking for an alternative approach to housing – we set up the Forever Affordable event to explore what the alternatives might be.

28th March 2018, National Railway Museum

Without question one of the most common issues raised so far during the My York Central process is that of ‘affordable housing’  and particular what it means and how can York Central avoid further investment, buy-to-let and holiday properties.

As part of our Homes week of the Festival of York Central we invited Sue Bird and James Newton from YorSpace and Jimm Reed from Leeds Community Homes to share the different models that can be used of ensure homes build to be affordable remain affordable.

Sue and James kicked off to introduce YorSpace  and their model of governance and investment. Here are the key points and some quotes to give a flavour of their presentations:

Introduction to YorSpace

YorSpace was set up because we genuinely think homes should be forever affordable. We want to create homes that put community inclusion and housing at the heart of housing. We wanted to help ourselves and help others.

Organisational model of YorSpace

YorSpace is a community benefit society and Lowfield Green development will be co-operatively owned. This approach to ownership and decision making is so that:

  • YorSpace can be for the community and run by the community
  • Ensure the homes stay long-term affordable

YorSpace will use a co-operative structure to keep these homes affordable

Mutual home ownership, by developing individual neighbourhoods of people, each their own community co-operative. There will be an ‘asset lock’ – which will help keep the homes affordable in perpetuity. In practice this means that the Co-operative owns all the home, but everyone that lives there will own the company. This stops the houses being sold on the open market.

Because we are not-for-profit, we can cut out developer profit. We can build houses more cheaply. Therefore the deposit people need to come up with is less. We then ask for a monthly contribution (to pay off the collective mortgage of the whole co-operative). YorSpace aim for this to be lower than ‘affordable rents’ (as definition 80% market rents).

YorSpace’s first development: Lowfield Green

You can read more about Lowfield Green here but just to give a brief overview:

  • Mixture 1, 2, 3 and 4 bedroom homes
  • Communal area / Shared laundry ‘in order to create sense of community’
  • Car free shared space and lots of shared space in between
  • 15 car parking space for 19 homes
  • It is developed under One Planet living principles

YorSpace are looking for new members.  The homes on Lowfield Green are not yet full and there are looking for people to invest. YorSpace will be offering opportunities to buy shares in the community benefit society – this will be launched in July with a target of £500 000 being raised.

We then opened up to questions from the floor:

Q: Will you only do new build or take on existing buildings?

Yes, we’ll look at old buildings (started by looking at Oliver House, Bishophill), great to reuse buildings and bring them to back to life.

Q: Will £500,000 complete the develop?

The £500,000 when combined with residents’ deposits, will act as the deposit to borrow the remaining money to complete the development.

Q: Who are the people involved and how does it link to the social housing list?

YorSpace is not a social housing provider. We can’t meet the same prices as a Housing Association because we don’t have access the same funding. So we offer ‘affordable’ but not social housing.

Q: Do the members contribute to the capital or more of a co-operative rental model?

All people moving in will need to put down some kind of deposit because we need to borrow the development loan money. We are trying to make that as small as possible, so the more community shares we sell the smaller deposit necessary. We need to find that balance we can be 100% one way or the other, we can’t just give spaces to people who can afford or who can’t afford it, we want a mixed community can stabilize the community.

Q: What has been the community response in Acomb?

While there is always concern about the wider Lowfield Green development (our scheme is part of a much larger redevelopment of the former Lowfield School site, everyone who has heard about what our portion represents has been really positive. When they have spoke to us, they are interested in the approach.

Q: Could this work on York Central?

Yes, we want to replicate this, we’ve learnt so much, we don’t want to do this just once, we want more people that just one development, so this could work for York Central.

We then moved onto introduce Jimm form Leeds Community Homes

Introduction to Leeds Community Homes

Leeds Community Homes set up two years ago as a Community Benefit Society. We are also a Community Land Trust, with the whole of Leeds as our community. Leeds Community Homes are also a “Power to Change” funded community housing regional hub/enabler (as a pathfinder). The aims of the hub is to enable new community led housing, working across Yorkshire.

The hubs will facilitate communities to get together and produce more of this housing.

There will soon be news of a new community housing fund. We’re waiting for the details but are expecting it to be £60m per year for three years directed specifically at community housing. The hubs will be working to get that money out the groups and helping them with the process.

The problem with community housing is that it is very capital poor. If we all came together as a group today we couldn’t necessarily have a lot of money to say buy a site or commit to a building contract, so we’re looking to build our ability as a sector to borrow and raise capital.

We’re working directly with developers, some aren’t that bad, they are sometimes interested in this type of housing.

There is an issue (as raised above with YorSpace in terms of social housing) that most community-led housing is not able to get direct funding for rented housing without being a ‘registered provider ‘of social housing.  So Leeds Community Homes are currently developing relations with existing registered providers, like Local Authorities and Housing Associations, as they are in the business of development affordable housing, we are natural allies.

Leeds Community Homes is keen to look for replicability, blueprints and roadmaps for how projects can take place and be delivered.  We want to help groups avoid reinventing the wheel. The different factors are:

  1. Legal
  2. Financial
  3. Land
  4. Governance (how to ae decisions)
  5. Procurement
  6. Design

Jimm then talked through a number of different current projects. Few to check out with links:

Climate Innovation District

  • 300 passivhaus panelised timber-framed homes being built in a factory on the site.
  • Energy CIC, all have renewal energy and solar panel, everyone lives there will be a member of the company, so they will own and manage their own energy supply.
  • 16 affordable homes generating under Section 106 (link), discounted sale and for rent.
  • Funded that through a community share offer, local people, local co-ops as an investment.

Q: What was in it for the developers?

It’s quite a community-minded developer, Citu, and they are innovative and interested in different approaches to building a housing scheme.

But it also makes the story better for the council, as well as regenerate the area, it is win, win, win all around. Not all developers would go for it.

Q: Have you come across an issues of social houses but can’t find a social landlord to take it on?

A: Housing Associations don’t want to take them because they can’t deal with the service charges and then the danger is that the developer gets away without doing any social housing.

  • 29 co-housing units, common house.
  • Housing Association partnership building older person flats, self-build flats.
  • Share communal space, rather than gardens
  • Controlled parking only 50% flats

Q: Had Chaco been around the a while?

Yes, two or three sites before we were able to move ahead with this one.


LILAC was how I got into community-led housing in 2009 as a project manager for this group. The group had been  looking for a site for years and found a council site, but to the council they were not credible purchasers on their own. So the group found me to act as project manager. All homes owned by Lilac co-op and they all together pay off big mortgage they all jointly have.

  • The build was with this completely brand new straw system. (Modcell)
  • All houses looking inwards into communal shared space
  • Community building, office, crèche, social area

Community-led housing is more relevant than ever before. There has obviously been the co-op movement for years, so it is not brand new.  But with the impact of Grenfell, localism and neighbour planning, there is more interest than there has ever been. People are taking control of how housing is working. This possibility is enshrined in law through the Custom and Self-Build Act which is a planning requirement for Local Authorities to take into account local people wanting to do their own building.

There is also the new Community Housing Fund (as mentioned above, more here from Homes England).

Q: Is the £60m for loans or grants?

It will be for capital grants.

Q: Why is Leeds different to York?

Difficult to pin it to any one thing. What we are now able to do is to use Lilac as a shining example and now trade on it. That’s helped. Leeds has a of history of co-co-operatives. Local authority has taken the community/ self build thing seriously and has put resource and political capital into supporting organisations like LCH, and schemes like Chaco.

Q: What worries me slightly is the more fundamental question about who is making decisions on York Central. There is always this line everything has ‘to be viable’, we need more transparency about what that means. I am concerned by ‘community-wash. I do want community-led approach but I also want big numbers too. How can we make sure we are  looking at the big picture and the kind of community we want?

Q: I want a mixed community on York Central (and I live near by). I want some who works in a restaurant in town, someone who is a nurse and someone who is one teacher, not just people who can afford a market rent.

Q: What do you mean by affordable?

Sue: ‘Community washing’ is something we sometimes worry about. There is an important speed issue.  If the process goes too fast then you lose the ability for the community to have impact. Pacing is important. In terms of ‘affordable’, what we usually say is ‘low cost’. James and I are the squeezed middle, we’re young professionals but this town is very expensive. The market has become so skewed.

Q: What we would like to see is low cost and different definitions of ‘affordability’ for different groups, York Central has been too much what are they are going to do for us or really too us …not what can we can do.

Q: Could we develop a locally specific definition of affordability that is tailor to specific people?

James and Jimm responded – and others also contributed in:

  • % of income – 35% of income
  • JRF and Shelter, 1/3 – there are different benchmark
  • Perhaps need to be pegged to household income / bearing in mind the number of dependent children.
  • Could it be done on household income?

Q: Could we develop pen portraits of people different types of people and what affordable might mean to them. What are your housing challenges?

Sue: We know that there are people who have grown up in an area can’t stay. They are moving to Selby or Market Weighton and then commuting in.

James: Which has the knock on effect of the environment impact of the travel into the city and the contribution to poor air quality.

Q: What is the size of the deposit need. The deposit could still be a big barrier, does your model get over that?

Because we will have to initially cover the loan it will, but as we complete developments we can start borrowing against our assets and then our model starts to become more viable. Lowfield Green is very much a pilot.

Q: Are there any other ways?

Government policy has tended to be focused on help-to-buy and shared ownership, tending toward giving access to the market but not making it cheaper.

Q: Council has a housing company, but it is very small numbers. Can we find out more about that?

Next steps:

  • York Central community? Initiate a big discussion about what we mean by a community – with the aim of a brief that can then be used to identify the types of housing that might enable that community. We started this in the event, with these thoughts: link
  • Housing Challenges? Ask people for the issues they are facing to help with the York Central Homes brief.
  • Follow up the discussion with Homes England so we can understand where the funding and policy levers are.
  • Find out more about the council housing company.
  • Explore more different ways of creating community ownership and a stake in decision making.