Community-led projects to create sustainable homes in Leeds

'There are lots of communities ready and willing to get involved in building their own housing'

Leeds Community Homes (LCH), set up five years ago as a community land trust, is working with around 30 groups across Yorkshire, from Leeds city centre to smaller communities like Holmfirth and Castleford. And it has ambitious plans to help build 1,000 sustainable homes by 2028. 

CEO Steve Hoey has spent the last 20 years in a variety of roles in community and co-op housing, and says there is huge need across the country.

“We need more new affordable housing, and there is the challenge of low-carbon retrofit in older homes. There are lots of communities ready and willing to get involved in building their own housing and I hope we can make a significant contribution, from building to facilitating or enabling others.” 

The organisation’s first major project raised £360,000 via a community share offer to build 16 affordable apartments in the Climate Innovation District in Leeds city centre. It is hoped they will be ready by the autumn, with seven for sale at a discounted price (around two-thirds of market value) and nine for social rent.

Key tasks for LCH include identifying land for affordable, sustainable housing; creating opportunities to partner with developers; supporting new co-housing projects; and working with other community-led housing organisations to develop programmes for purchasing and renovating long-term empty homes.

Its latest plan is to build 34 new homes in Armley, where the formal planning process and community consultation is about to start. Some will be available to people on the council housing list, some could be rented directly through LCH and others could be bought through a part-ownership scheme. Priority will be for people already living in the area. 

Community-led housing is still just a tiny part of the market  – o.5% – and leading players, including LCH, want an extension for the Community Housing Fund – £163m in government money which has helped to create a pipeline of over 16,600 homes. Administrative delays meant the Homes England part of the fund was only open to bids for 18 months, instead of the planned five years. LCH is at the forefront of a National Community Land Trust Network campaign to extend it for five years.

Consultations led by Leeds Community Housing

The organisation is also keen to improve diversity within the sector and engage more with BAME groups, disabled people and LGBTQ+ groups to ensure housing developments meet their needs. New to the team is Claude Hendrikson, a passionate advocate for BAME housing and founder of the Frontline community scheme in Leeds, which saw 12 unemployed African Caribbean men and their families build new homes for themselves.

Mr Hoey says: “We are working with one group of five African Caribbean people on an estate in West Leeds who want to renovate empty homes for young offenders, and an LGBTQ+ group that wants to create extra care housing across the generations for their own community. These projects are great, and we want to see more BAME and LGBTQ+ groups being supported in Leeds and the wider region, and becoming our members.”

Another Leeds organisation is Lilac – Low Impact Living Affordable Community – a registered co-op which started life 14 years ago when a small group of residents wanted to build their own homes. Construction on the mix of 20 eco-build houses and flats started in 2012 and the first residents arrived in May 2013; it is now home to 64 adults and 13 children. There is a central Common House (with shared postroom, kitchen, dining room, office, workshop and laundry), a pond, allotments, communal gardens and a play area.

“We were always committed to being a co-op and building a strong community,” says co-founder Paul Chatterton, a professor of urban futures at Leeds University. “We looked at how we work within and beyond the current planning system, at affordable models, and issues like shared ownership.” 

The homes were built with a company which developed a low-carbon method of construction using panel timber walls insulated with strawbale, which significantly reduced CO2 emissions from construction. Insulation and design combine to store solar heat in winter and reject it in summer, reducing the need for heating. The houses also have solar thermal for heat and water.

As a mutual, everyone in the community owns equity in their home. “You buy equity by paying 35% of your net income every month to the society,” says Prof Chatterton. “This goes into a central pot which pays one mortgage that we have with the bank. There are no individual mortgages. You buy equity which you can sell when you leave. The value is linked to wages and not local house prices so it might be difficult to get back into the housing market, but we see what we’re doing as making a stand against rampant speculation. It’s got to start somewhere and we’re part of that.” 

The organisation also runs the Lilac Equity Fund, and the High Earners Policy, which top-slices money from moderately high earners whose incomes are above that needed for the debt on their house. “This is to deal with short-term balance of payment and difficulties among households,” says Prof Chatterton. “If one household got into difficulties, it could be used for that. The security of tenure in housing co-ops, especially this MHOS model, is really good. They’re prepared to pay 35% of their net income to give them that extra surety.”

He adds: “I suppose what people make a decision on is everything else they’re getting. The shared common house, shared spaces, allotments. When you factor in is the whole life cycle and whole house living costs, it becomes very affordable.”

But there is a long way to go for co-op housing, he says. “What we lack is a community-owned development sector. In Sweden, in Germany, in Denmark, you’ve got developers that are community-owned. Now imagine we had that in the UK. This could not only understand community needs, but start to recycle profits, working on bulk discounts and sales to really start to meet demand.

“We’ve got vast amounts of housing stock and need to look at how we use terraces in the cities and semis in the suburbs. We need to retrofit low-carbon infrastructure, build in community infrastructure and shared ownership, start knocking down back gardens, take the middle home and make it into a common house where there’s shared facilities … You could do this across every neighbourhood and street across the UK.”

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