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Leeds housing focus: Homes built for the people – not for profit

LEEDS COMMUNITY HOMES: From left, Kevin Gillespie (Citu), Ryan Geldard (Citu), Steve Hoey (Leeds Community Homes) and Gill Coupland (Leeds Community Homes). PIC: Jonathan Gawthorpe

Hailed as providing an “antidote” to the volume housebuilder, community-led housing is gaining ground in Leeds and nationally.

Over the coming week, the Yorkshire Evening Post will be shining a spotlight on the rise of the self-build sector in the city.

In a series of in-depth articles, we will be looking at the pioneering work currently taking place across Leeds to put people – not profit – at the heart of housing.

Community-led housing aims to give people more choice and more options over where and how they live. It takes many forms – from cohousing projects to individual self-builds, to housing co-ops and schemes providing affordable rent.

The movement is big in Europe; in Austria, 80 per cent of homes are custom-built and 60 per cent in Germany. But here in the UK, it accounts for just seven to 10 per cent of new build housing.

At a time when the nation is in the grip of a crisis, with a lack of affordable, decent homes and house prices almost seven times the average income, community-led housing offers opportunities for people to take back control.

MAN WITH A DREAM: Dr Paul Chatterton. PIC: Bruce Rollinson

Whether that’s creating more low-cost homes, making them more environmentally-friendly, building a dream home or learning new skills, the sector helps diversify the market which has been heavily dominated by a handful of volume house builders.

Paul Chatterton has devoted the last 15 years of his life to backing this movement around Leeds. A professor of urban landscape at the University of Leeds, he was a founding member of LILAC – the ground-breaking cohousing scheme in Bramley – and is now a board member of Leeds Community Homes (LCH).

LCH is a community land trust (CLT) launched in November 2015 with the aim of building 1,000 community-led homes over the next 10 years.

It successfully ran a crowdfunding-style community share scheme last year which raised £360,000 needed to buy its first 16 flats for affordable housing, in the eco-friendly Climate Innovation District on the south bank of the River Aire.

Paul said: “It’s starting to come together in Leeds. People are realising they don’t have to be dependent on big volume builders. Citizens can create their own citizen-led housing. It’s quite a big deal.”

Leeds Community Homes is currently setting up a “community-led housing hub”, to be a point of contact for people who want to build in their neighbourhoods.

Paul said they will soon be travelling around the city to spread the word about what the sector can offer. Gill Coupland, of Empty Homes Doctor and also a board member of LCH, said: “If you think about it, if housing didn’t exist at all, how would you create it? You’d start with the people. But in most countries, it doesn’t start with the people, it starts with how much money developers can get from the land. So the land purchase price dictates the housing people will be living in. It’s crazy.

“What we want is for it to be driven by the people who want to live there – with the view that the people will want to develop it in a very different way.”

Community housing expert Jimm Reed, director of CoHo Ltd which project managed the LILAC cohousing scheme, added: “Our housing market has just become very distorted. It’s just gone so far down one avenue, there’s a push back from that. That’s what happens – people take matters into their own hands when the system doesn’t work.

“I find it immensely inspirational that people are prepared to go through what is a really hard process to try and make their own places, rather than accepting what the usual model is.”

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