Lilac co-housing: How they did it

Published: 28th Oct 2014
lilacscheme
Lilac stands for Low Impact Living Affordable Community and is billed as the UK’s first affordable co-housing project

Co-housing developments are built around community and sustainability but can they also be affordable? Susan Downer visits Lilac in Leeds to find out.

The housing sector has a reputation for many things, but rarely is it lauded for its principles. Lilac, in Leeds, is an exception.

To describe the 20 properties comprising Lilac as a housing initiative is to do it a disservice. Home to 35 adults and 10 children it is equally rooted in three core values: affordability, sustainability and community.

Lilac stands for Low Impact Living Affordable Community and the values implicit in its name permeate everything from the straw bale walls of its houses to its solar and photovoltaic panels, communal house, public park, children’s play area and allotment gardens. Everything that can be shared is shared, including tools, cars, washing machines and twice weekly communal meals.

The land and flat-roofed buildings are owned by the company itself which is a type of co-operative known as a mutual home ownership society (MHOS). The company sells shares to members when they move in (the number of shares equates to the size of their property and a proportion of the common house) and buys them back when they move out. This means no one can sell their house on the open market for a big profit and the homes will remain affordable for future generations.

Home to 35 adults and 10 children Lilac is equally rooted

in three core values: affordability, sustainability and community.

Standing at the edge of a small pond surrounded by flowers, with volunteers putting the finishing touches onto a dipping platform for children, it is incredible to think that all this is the work of a handful of people who came together in 2007 to create something beyond traditional home ownership or renting.

Fran Lee, a resident and founder member, says the group had no special skills, friends in high places or deep pockets. ‘You just keep going and learn from who you can.’

Fran, then a semi-retired teacher living on a narrowboat, was charged with finding out how to acquire land on a shoestring. Initially, they asked Leeds Council to gift them some land. The council refused.

Sitting in her bright, spacious first floor flat Fran recalls going to auctions to see how people went about buying land. ‘Even the thought of putting my hand up and saying I’ll pay a million, even a few hundred thousand for a piece of land was ahhh!’ But after going to the meetings for a few months she learnt that plots of land belonging to Leeds Council were always included in the auction.

In 2008, as the nation’s economy began to collapse, the group again approached the council and asked to be given the heads-up on land before it went to auction; this time they said yes.

‘We set the criteria we wanted: to be near houses, schools, transport, in a nice position if possible. We wanted to build beautiful properties in the city that everybody could afford.’

Comments (4)

Avatar

This is certainly not a broadly based solution to the housing crisis. How much did these individuals have to stump up to be part of this vaguely hippy-ish collective? Probably a very large deposit – I’m guessing £30K to £40K. It’s clearly just an exercise in (clearly ‘white’ from the photo) middle class wish fulfilment. Good luck to them but the idea that this has a major role in a situation where there is a need take thousands of families off individual council waiting lists is really the high ground of self satisfied and smug hubris. All this “Oh we *really* did want to make it affordable” nonsense grates as well. And it was also subsidised from the public purse anyway and there’s no real return on that – I’d have put a clause in which took out some of the (no doubt) future capital gain on those properties as a return rather than give people who can clearly afford it a grant. Instead of promoting this guff why don’t New Start come to terms with the housing market’s complete failure and the need for heavy state intervention? The reason is that New Start’s editorial line is actually anti-state and in many ways an atomised individualistic approach which actively wants a ‘small state’. Look where that’s getting us eh? New Start is almost against the very civic institutions that bound (and should continue to bind) communities together and its certainly against anything that might look like working class solidarity or extensive action at a municipal level. Get real and behind the only solution to the housing crisis – force through CPOs of good housing land for public ownership, release council borrowing constraints, and let them build while ending the Right to Buy. End this obsession with owning homes and as an “asset” class to leave to your children in order to perpetuate your entrenched privilege. All else is bunk and blather.

Reply
Clare Goff

Thanks for your comment. Co-housing is not presented as a broad-based solution to the housing crisis. It will always be a niche option but it offers a different way to live and to build developments. Next week we are publishing a piece about what councils are doing to help solve the housing crisis, which will hopefully answer some of your questions. Another article on the site today talks about housing associations that are going against the grain and working together to ensure they do the best for their residents – http://newstartmag.co.uk/features/q-a-with-tony-stacey-forging-an-alternative-narrative-about-social-housing/
New Start is not anti-state. We want the state to continue to be the key player in local areas and to work closely and collaboratively with its citizens, local businesses and local voluntary and civic organisations to do what’s best for its locality. We would support the solutions you have outlined and if you’d like to write a blog on them we would be happy to publish it.

Reply
Avatar

‘The company sells shares to members when they move in (the number of shares equates to the size of their property and a proportion of the common house) and buys them back when they move out. This means no one can sell their house on the open market for a big profit and the homes will remain affordable for future generations’.

I don’t get the logic of this statement and how it means that no one can make a big profit. Presumably there is something else which stops ‘owners’ selling on the right to the leasehold. I assume I am missing something but what is it? Is there some sort of tenure and right to occupy which goes with the shares and only the shares? In a world of supply and demand and, in the case of homes, shortage of supply, how are vacated homes allocated to new members (secret ballot?), or if by vote what stops secret deals being done to buy a vote?

Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Pin It on Pinterest