Cut your rent in half by joining a co-op

Sky-high rents swallow most of salary after tax, but housing co-operatives offer great deals to young Londoners willing to shoulder a few ownership responsibilities.

With London tenants spending 55 per cent of their income after tax on rent, according to the HomeLet Rental Index, it is no surprise that both politicians and surveyors are backing housing co-operatives as a way of providing better-value homes. These co-operatives offer members homes at low rent in properties they either develop themselves or lease from landlords. Members vote on how their developments are run, they share ownership and help with property maintenance or other chores.

The Co-operatives UK campaign group lists 224 London housing co-operatives on its website. Jeremy Blackburn, head of policy at the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, believes more brownfield sites should be made available for co-ops to build affordable homes. "Co-operative homes have consistently been the most popular and most economically managed form of tenure," he says.
 
Co-operative housing should be recognised in property law, says Labour  MP Jonathan Reynolds. He wants the need removed for property-owning co-ops to have cumbersome landlord and tenant contracts for their members. "It is now harder than ever for young  people to find a home of their own and if we are to address this issue it is time to look beyond the traditional options of ownership or tenancy," he says.

South Bank homes with Coin Street  Community Builders
A London role model for co-ops is Coin Street Community Builders. This social enterprise and development trust owns and manages 13 acres of Bankside and the South Bank, including the Oxo Tower and Gabriel's Wharf. Since buying the land from the Greater London Council in 1984 it has added amenities such as the Bernie Spain Gardens riverside park and built 215 homes, making this London's largest site of purpose-built co-operative housing.

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The social enterprise and development trust owns and manages 13 acres of Bankside and the South Bank, where amenities it has added include Bernie Spain Gardens, a popular riverside park.

Coin Street also plans to build a swimming pool and leisure centre using profits made from constructing homes for sale in Doon Street. Its head of housing services, Brian Trainor, says the balance of leisure, retail, residential and work spaces has contributed to the community's success. "We were using the term 'sustainable communities' before almost anyone else," he says. In addition to social housing, Julian Hall, spokesman for Lambeth United Housing Co-operative, says Coin Street and other co-ops "provide something else that is at a premium in society - the basis for a thriving community of committed and engaged members".

Hall says co-ops that lease properties can bring empty homes back into use, but their members need better protection against eviction by landlords. Lambeth council has evicted co-operative tenants from 120 homes it owns so that it can sell them, and plans to seize another 58 properties. The Labour-run council promises to make some of the 1,000 new social housing units it plans to build over the next four years available to housing co-operatives, but the eviction of existing tenants from homes some had lived in for nearly 40 years, and had maintained at their own expense, has shown that co-ops using other organisations' property are vulnerable.

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London role model for housing co-ops: homes with a children's playground at a Coin Street Community Builders project.

Top value in Lewisham - Sanford housing co-operative
Co-ops that own their property enjoy greater security. The Sanford Housing Co-operative in New Cross owns the homes its founders built on wasteland in 1973, and its tenants can only be evicted for a serious breach of contract. Living in flats or shared houses, Sanford's 125 members pay £250 rent per calendar month, inclusive of council tax and bills - half the local going rate for a private rental.

Member disputes are rare, says Mark Langford, Sanford's support officer, and to prevent fall-outs, the co-operative has a three-stage selection process of interviews and questionnaires for potential members, so it can find like-minded people. 'Sanford selects people who demonstrate a good understanding of what co-ops are, and it is important those people also show a willingness to participate', he says. Sanford accepts membership applications directly, and most co-ops either have waiting lists or take referrals from council housing waiting lists.

Some co-ops, such as North Camden Housing Co-operative, renovate existing buildings. It owns 106 Victorian-era homes in and around Kentish Town.  

Central and local government grants are available for new housing co-operatives. Co-ops can bid for funds from the £1.25 billion Mayor of London's affordable housing programmes, or the £3 million Community Right to Build scheme. Lenders including Tridos Bank and Ecology Building Society provide mortgages to co-ops.

 


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