Can people power solve the housing crisis?

PrintFew would disagree that we have a housing crisis. At the launch of our community share offer last Monday, one of Leeds Community Homes’ founder members Dr Paul Chatterton suggested there are three main issues that we need to tackle – affordability, sustainability and community.

The question is – how could a ‘community-led’ approach such as ours make a difference?

Leeds Community Homes was set up a year ago with the explicit aim of creating more affordable housing in our city. We’re a community benefit society – which means we can raise money through community shares. We’re also able to act as a Community Land Trust for Leeds – meaning we can hold on to land and buildings for affordable use in perpetuity.

Last week we launched our first community share offer – which aims to raise £360,000 to invest in our first project – the purchase of 16 affordable homes on a development in the new Climate Innovation District in the centre of Leeds. We’ll keep nine of the flats for social rental – and sell seven on at around two-thirds of the market value. There will be restrictions on future re-sales that will ensure that the homes continue to be available at below market price.

The response so far has been really positive – with over £15,000 pledged in a week – which will be matched by Power To Change’s Community Shares Booster Fund. Our target of £360,000 is ambitious, but we’re confident that we can encourage people to back our approach to creating more affordable homes.

We’re hopeful that people will be excited by our immediate plans to create affordable housing in the city centre – but also by our longer-term ambitions. Our long-term goal is to be involved in creating 1000 affordable homes over 10 years – a contribution to the 66,000 target that has been identified for the city.

We anticipate that we’ll achieve that in a range of ways. We expect to build homes ourselves – most likely focusing on small, inner-city brownfield sites that bigger developers aren’t so interested in. We’re also likely to build on the expertise that already exists among social enterprises in Leeds in renovating empty homes, by buying and renovating long-term empty properties that we can then rent out.

But we imagine that the main way we’ll work towards our target is by working with local people to support them to create housing in our city. We’re already in contact with three groups who’d like to create co-housing communities in our city – inspired by the example of Leeds co-housing pioneers LILAC. And we’ve had all sorts of conversations with people who want to take control of meeting their housing needs – from student co-ops through to partnerships with local developers. What people often need is access to expertise that helps them take their early-stage idea and turn it into something that has a good chance of working – and we think that’s where we could make a difference.

The scale of the problem that we face is clear to us – and we know it won’t be easy to try to make real progress on the three key issues Paul identified at our launch – affordability, sustainability and community. But we are confident that if we can begin to build a movement in Leeds – focused around creating affordable housing – we could really make a difference in our city.


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