Published: 5th Feb 2020

The YorSpace community land trust (CLT) is disrupting York’s housing market with 19 permanently affordable homes that could open later this year.

New Start travelled to the city to meet YorSpace co-founder James Newton to find out why it could be just the type of housing development that York needs.

House prices in the medieval city of York have increased by an eyewatering 300% in just twenty years.

It’s made it almost impossible for many hard-working people to buy a house of their own, leaving them trapped in an unforgiving private rental sector, unable to save for a deposit.

YorSpace, a community-land-trust (CLT), is attempting to buck the trend and offer genuinely affordable housing based on what people in the area actually earn.

To help fund the plans, they’ve raised an impressive £400,000 through a community share offer, and their audacious vision could be soon become a reality.

James Newton.

But like many of the best ideas, YorSpace began in a pub. After a couple of drinks, James Newton met Sue Bird and began talking about their shared dream of finding a way to live affordably in their home city of York. Their friendship blossomed and a year later they were living together in rented accommodation.

They would regularly host street parties and invite neighbours round for dinner. They soon realised that community-based living might be the perfect solution to their affordability problem.

James and Sue shared their vision with their neighbours, who were just as excited as they were.

‘This is where YorSpace really began,’ says James.

The small group of people began talking about making the project happen on a larger scale. In 2014 things took a huge step forward when they placed an offer for an old care home, Oliver House on Bishops Hill which was owned by the City of York Council.

‘All of a sudden, we had all of this support, we had meetings, a social media presence, people writing about us in the press, it all got really exciting,’ says James.

However, their dream soon fell through when the council sold Oliver House to the highest bidder, a private retirement home company.

Despite the setback, James and YorSpace were determined to see their vision turned into a reality and a few years later, in 2017, they acquired a plot of land at Lowfield Green in Acomb.

Lowfield Green used to be home to a local school, but instead of selling the land to a private developer, the City of York Council decided to develop the land into a new housing estate, with 96 two, three, and four-bedroom houses, 26 bungalows and 16 one and two bedroomed apartments for people over 55.

It presented YorSpace with a unique opportunity and the council allocated them their own plot where they will be building 19 one, two, three and four-bedroom homes.

The hard yards

One of the aims of a CLT is to bring together people who have a pre-existing connection to the city and there have been several successful examples of communities being reborn through a CLT, including Granby 4 Streets in Liverpool and St Clements in Mile End, London.

James says that they want YorSpace to be a mix of people; older residents who want to downsize; younger couples who want to start a family; or individuals who want to live as part of a community.­­

Demand for the properties has been strong and 70% are now secure, with 35% allocated to families and 52% to people under 35.

James says: ‘I’ve got friends from all over the country but it’s not about parachuting our friends over, it’s about bringing people together who are committed to York in one way or another.’

YorSpace has been a labour of love and over the past five years, James, Sue and many others have dedicated their lives to the project, working evenings, weekends and taking time off work to go to meetings. 

James’ passion for this project really shines through as he describes the sense of pride he feels knowing that the project began as just an idea, and the sense of community he already feels through the friends he’s made.

‘The friendships I’ve made from this have been wonderful,’ he says.

‘I’m going to one of my future neighbour’s weddings next month, and don’t even get me started on Sue — Sue and I will be friends forever.’

Sustainability 

Sustainability is another key aspect of YorSpace. James has a background in architecture, but he says in the past he has worked on projects where there just hasn’t been the funding to retrofit and make properties sustainable, but at YorSpace, they have made this a priority: ‘Sustainability has been the main driver for me,’ he says.

To achieve their sustainability goals, they want to cut down on energy costs. The homes will all be powered by renewable energy and the community building, which will be the hub of YorSpace, will have a laundrette of five washing machines which they hope will cut down their waste and water use.

That’s not all, the community building, which will be built by the residents, will be made from straw and hemp that is grown on a farm just 20 miles away.

Not only are the transportation costs of this low, but the hemp plant absorbs carbon dioxide (CO2) while growing, which is then locked into the material, and the hemp then continues to absorb CO2 throughout its lifetime.

Cost

The ownership model of YorSpace is that residents own equity, like they would do in an ordinary home, but they don’t own their house outright.

The houses are valued at around 60-70% of the market rate, and to confirm the property, residents have to pay a 10% deposit.

Over time the residents will make monthly repayments, then when they want to leave, they can, but they can’t sell their shares on the open market, they sell them back to the co-op who owns the homes.

‘That’s the trick,’ says James.

‘The issue with the housing crisis is you can build an affordable home, but then as soon as it ends up on the open market it’s no longer affordable. We plan to not just build affordable homes, but to build permanently affordable homes.’

This process is called mutual homeownership, it’s a new way of thinking about what it means to live in a house, you don’t directly own the home, but you own the co-op, who own the homes.

‘We want people to buy a house just to live there, it’s like buying a pair of shoes, you do so because you want to own a pair of shoes, not because you want to make a profit,’ said James.

The project is expected to cost in a total of £3.6m, £1.8m of this is coming from an ethical lender, £300,000 from grant funding, £400,000 from their shareholder offer, and the rest will come from capital grant funds and resident deposits.

However, James and the rest of the team are keeping their fingers crossed that the government will extend the community housing fund: ‘Without this funding, YorSpace is just some really nice glossy images and a great business plan, we need this funding to ensure that all of our hard work has paid off.’

Photo Credit – YorSpace

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