The secret tenant: rent a room on London's South Bank for £80 a week

Continuing his challenge of finding somewhere to rent for less than £500 a month in London's Zone 2, our secret tenant Tim Lowe discovers a South Bank housing co-operative that’s well within his budget.

The challenge of finding somewhere to rent for less than £500 a month in Zone 2 is increasingly tough. Bemoaning my imminent homelessness, I get chatting with a regular in my local pub who tells me his son has just moved into a housing co-operative on the South Bank and is paying £80 a week for a one-bedroom flat.

I Google “housing co-ops London” on the off chance that my acquaintance has hit on a solution. The top result reads: “Co-operative housing: Coin Street, South Bank”. 

A few calls later I manage to track down Brian Trainor, head of housing services at Coin Street Community Builders, a not-for-profit social enterprise and development trust. Sensing my desperation, he kindly agrees to meet up with me.

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Membership of one of the four housing co-ops at Coin Street Community Builders is very difficult to obtain. Half of members come through the local authority, while the other half is made up of those who apply and have a local connection or work in the area, such as in health care or education. 

When new members arrive they are expected to spend their first year on the committee to get an understanding of how everything works. 

The main gist is that a housing co-op evolves around a group of people who jointly control the way it is run. They have to pay a nominal rent to the co-op of between £80 and £185 a week depending on size of the accommodation, and they are expected to take an active part in the organisation.
 
True to his word, Brian Trainor persuades Lilly, a local midwife and long-time Coin Street resident, to let me stay with her family for three weeks and keep within my budget of £115 a week.  She, along with her two young sons and her brother-in-law’s father, a lovely chap called Chris, live in the Iroko development opposite ITV’s South Bank headquarters.
 

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Iroko is an architectural masterpiece, far removed from what I expected social housing to look like. In fact if you didn’t know better, with its balconies and rooftop penthouses, you would walk past it thinking it was another exclusive multimillion-pound development along the river. 

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Built to last: the homes have been practically built to minimise maintenance costs

It was designed by architects Haworth Tompkins with a main aim of achieving a blend of family house sizes, to reflect local demand. They opted for terrace houses with a modern twist, and more than half of the 59 units are five-bedroom houses — not bad for social housing in the heart of London, and very different from current tenant expectations. Most would expect only a studio flat in such a central location. 
 
Of course, it’s all very well producing attractive housing but what really matters is how it functions within the community, and as family living space. Internally, the houses have been built to last and minimise maintenance costs, rather than using the cheapest materials available. 

Furthermore, insulation and solar panelling are common features, ensuring the buildings are cheaper to run in the long term. Every home has a private garden but residents also have access to a large communal landscaped garden for all of them to use and look after

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Community ties: Coin Street residents include key workers such as teachers and nurses needing to be near their jobs. Image: Rex

My room is on the top floor of a three-storey house with my two new housemates Hamish, 14, and 11-year-old Arthur. Fortunately, my premonition that this could prove quite a challenge, remembering my own behaviour at their age, is quickly put to bed. They turn out to be two of the most relaxed, well-behaved lads I have met. 

Although my room is compact, it serves as the perfect crash pad. And after three months on the road having to fend for myself, it’s a pleasure to enjoy some home-cooked food, waiting for me on the table. Over dinner, my adopted family gives me an excellent insight into how the co-op functions, its pros and cons, and the importance of community in the success of such schemes. 

The co-op is an excellent example of modern urban housing, in both an architectural and a social sense, but it is plain that these schemes will not work without intense dedication from a group of people believing in the cause. 

It is a fascinating, democratic approach to housing, ensuring residents have a greater stake in their homes which results in them being well-looked after. Because the leasehold is owned jointly by all co-operative members, individual tenants do not have the “right to buy”. Therefore housing remains available and, above all, the rents remain affordable for those in need. 

Sadly, such schemes would not be possible if they relied wholly upon government funding. What has allowed Coin Street Community Builders to prosper is its good management organisation and income generated through the co-operative’s commercial activities, such as the rent from the Oxo Tower Wharf [owned and managed by Coin Street Community Builders], only made possible by securing the land at the right price many years ago.

Next week: a chilly challenge for Tim as temperatures drop — living in a cross between a horsebox and a Ford Transit van.

For more from Tim and to watch videos of his assignment, visit www.estatesgazette.com/lowecostliving, follow @lowecostliving or @knightfrank

The original version of this piece appeared in Estates Gazette.

 


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