We invited James Newton of YorSpace and Jimm Reed from Leeds Community Homes to join us to inform the discussions with their experience and expertise.
We began by seeking to refine the brief for York Central – and to explore the links between housing and other aspects of the site.
A number of strands of discussion developed, including:-
Basic questions and answers – what does community-led housing provide? (Something different, but also the basics like a place which feels secure?)
What is affordability, and who exactly is community-led housing providing for? (Who gets to live there, and does this include middle-earners who still need housing help?)
How is long-term affordability ensured, and buy-to-lets and holiday-lets avoided? (Which led to a broader discussion of control and governance)
A number of questions led to discussion of the structure(s) that was required in order to provide what was wanted. For example:-
How to stop holiday lets and buy-to-lets?
This has been a recurrent question (from the start of the Festival of York Central) – we discussed a number of different models, but there seemed to be two basic approaches:-
Co-operative or co-ownership models which retain overall control through overall ownership (as used by Yorspace with their Mutual Home Ownership Society).
Covenents or other legal means to retain control when ownership is passed to others.
How to make sure people around the scheme are gaining from the scheme?
One of the ideas that came out of the Festival of York Central was of a social contract which provided benefits for residents outside York Central in return for any disruption or disbenefit which the development caused. How can Leeman Road Triangle share some of the benefits of the development – can two-way investment benefit both? How do you define the boundaries of the community? How wide should the “membership” be?
Could the whole of York Central be a Community Land Trust?
The role of a Community Land Trust (CLT) was explored. This provides for ownership of the land which means it can’t be disposed of without it being in the interests of the membership. Private housing could still be in there. Affordable housing could then be controlled as (for now at least) Community Land Trusts have exclusion from ‘right to buy’. The community land trust could be responsible for the green spaces – but would need income stream to do this.
This raises issues of service charges and stewardship.
It is very common to appoint a service company to do maintenance and receive service charges. It was noted that someone is going to be collecting service charges – could it be a community-led body where the money gets ploughed back into the community? This would then create long term stewardship. It was suggested that this could be on Garden City principles, so the community-led body might run commercial ventures so they have a revenue stream and that gets ploughed back in.
‘There is a difference between this and putting faith in a distant council by waiting for them to do something. In a community-led context, people can do it themselves’.
‘This is about York, taking back control’.
Community? Economy? Housing?
‘Community is about encouraging people – putting in encouragement for the things we call “community” to work?’
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).
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:
Governance (how to ae decisions)
Jimm then talked through a number of different current projects. Few to check out with links:
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?
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.