People power: YorSpace to build affordable homes in York

A community-led bid to build permanently affordable and sustainable homes in York began in 2012 with a few concerned individuals discussing ideas. Many of them had been locked out of the housing market in a city where the average house price is now £250,933.Now, seven years later, their tenacity has paid off and the dream of creating access to the housing market for all looks set to become a reality.YorSpace, a community benefit society and community land trust, now has the promise of a development plot at the former Lowfield School site in Acomb. It also has mortgage lenders happy to help finance the construction of 19 homes and it has just launched a community share issue to help fund the cost of the land.It aims to raise a minimum of £375,000 via its share offer and hopes that the prospect of an ethical investment with a return of 2.5 per cent interest will appeal to the public.Individuals can make a minimum investment of £250 up to a maximum of £47,500. Interest will be paid into each investors personal share account and money can be withdrawn from 2022. Ethical crowdfunding platform Ethex will be handling all transactions.

Ethical investment

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Imelda Havers of YorSpace says: “There are many exciting features to this project but raising money in the community for local housing really is a bit radical.“By investing in YorSpace, local people and businesses will have a stake in future housing provision and can shape the type of homes that the city really needs.The properties will be available via Mutual Home Ownership Society, which means that they will remain permanently affordable while those who live in them will build up cash equity.Those assigned a YorSpace home will pay a minimum 10 per cent deposit. As there is no developer profit to account for, a one-bedroom flat will be valued at £70,000 and a four-bedroom house £200,000, which is at least 50 per cent below market value. This means that deposits range from £700 to £2,000.The deposit will be followed by a set monthly contribution that will buy equity. Rather than owning their property, householders will own a part of the whole development as shareholders in a housing co-operative.Their equity stake will rise with the rate of inflation, rather than echoing house price growth, and if householders leave, they can take their equity and interest with them.This ensures that the homes will remain affordable and can never be sold on the open market for profit.The financial model similar to the one pioneered by Leeds-based LILAC, the Low Impact Living Affordable Community, that opened in 2013.

The plans for affordable homes

People power

Susannah Bird is one of those who was instrumental in helping YorSpace ideas become a reality. She will also be one of the first residents .“This all started seven years ago when I and others started discussing what we could do about the affordability gap in York. I am a scientist and so was a young professional at that time and I knew that if I was struggling to afford a home in the city, then there was no hope for people on similar and lower incomes.”YorSpace, which officially launched in 2014, began with a bid to buy and convert Oliver House, a former care home owned by the city council. It was sold to another bidder but the process helped them establish a dialogue with the local authority.“The council is also concerned about housing affordability in York and they offered to help us find another site. They came back with an offer of the land at Acomb, which is part of a bigger development they are doing,” says Susannah.

Affordable and sustainable

The homes at YorSpace Lowfield Green have been designed around sustainable living. Construction is likely to be insulated panels and the properties will be energy efficient and devoid of harmful chemicals.Along with the flats and houses, there will be a single storey common house that YorSpace hope to construct with straw bales. This will have space for events and activities, along with a kitchen and laundry.Community wellbeing is at the heart of the plan and the mix of housing will mean a blend of old and young people who are expected to help nurture and embrace an active, neighbourly community.Following the successful delivery of Lowfield Green, YorSpace hopes to facilitate more community-led housing.“We were keen to find a better way and we believe that this is it. We hope this will be the first of many community-led housing projects in York,” says Susannah.“We also hope investors will get behind our share issue. The rates are better than an ISA and and it’s an ethical investment that will help us provide the permanently affordable homes that York needs.”*www.yorspace.org. For share offer details visit www.ethex.org.uk/YorSpace

YorSpace plans for Lowfield Green