Community group aims to build 1,000 affordable homes

Leeds Community Homes hopes to use people power to build affordable property
Leeds Community Homes hopes to use people power to build affordable property
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A not-for-profit group aims to create 1,000 affordable homes in Leeds. Sharon Dale reports on the plan.

Creating 1,000 new affordable homes within 10 years is an ambitious target for a fledgling developer but the big number is essential to help solve an even bigger problem, according to Rob Greenland, a founder member of Leeds Community Homes.

The not-for-profit community benefit society plans to tackle the housing crisis in Leeds by buying and building properties and backing innovative housing schemes. All LCH homes will offer low-cost rents and discounted sale prices for those struggling to buy.

Its first venture has just launched: the purchase of 16 apartments due to be built by CITU in the city centre’s newly-formed Climate Innovation District on the south bank of the River Aire. The flats, due to be completed in two phases in January 2018 and January 2019, are on offer to Leeds Community Homes at a 60 per cent discount through a developer-funded Section 106 planning agreement, providing they remain affordable in perpetuity.

To fund the £360,000 cost, a community share offer has been launched and investors are being sought. A two per cent return by 2020 is being offered on a minimum £100 stake. It isn’t going to make anyone rich quick but it comes with added feelgood factor and is aimed at those with a social conscience.

“It’s a modest return aimed at people who want a social investment and who want to make a difference with their money,” says Rob Greenland, a well-known social entrepreneur.

Fellow founders of Leeds Community Homes, which was formed last year, have a wealth of experience in social enterprise, environmental sustainability and affordable, community-led housing. They include Paul Chatterton, a University of Leeds Professor and the driving force behind the LILAC co-housing development in Bramley, Gill Coupland, founder of the award-winning Empty Homes Doctor service, and architect Jonathan Lindh.

Part of their mission is to get like-minded Leeds residents involved in their “people powered homes” campaign with membership of Leeds Community Homes on offer for £1.

“Housing associations do good work but they don’t have enough resources to deal with the scale of the problem. We want to look at alternative ways of creating more affordable homes with the help of local citizens. We really want to build a movement around this issue,” says Rob.“Finding decent, affordable housing is a real problem for increasing numbers of people who struggle to afford to rent or buy. We want to change that. As our city grows, we want to play our part in creating homes that people can afford to live in. We’d encourage anyone who cares about our city to support our share offer, get involved and help us to create people-powered homes which are affordable now and forever.”

The first LCH scheme uses a model often employed by housing associations. Nine of the apartments will be let at affordable rents to people on Leeds City Council’s register of people in most need. Seven of the flats will be sold at 65 per cent of their market value to those struggling to get onto the property ladder. There will be a clause in the contract, which says that the apartment must always be sold at two-thirds of full market value.

While the first project is low risk and conventional, it will pave the way for alternative and more interesting ways of delivering affordable homes. Leeds Community Homes is in talks with groups who want help in following LILAC’s lead in building co-housing developments and it is exploring the idea of offering support to a student housing co-operative. LCH is also keen to design and build its own sustainable and affordable homes.

“IT is likely to be on the small areas of inner-city brownfield land that conventional developers are not interested in. As we are not-for-profit we can afford to take them on,” says Rob, who adds: “Whatever we do the homes we create will remain affordable.”

*Leeds Community Homes is using ethical investment platform Ethex for community share offer. www.ethex.org.uk/leedscommunityhomes; www.leedscommunityhomes.org.uk