OCH Speech to City Council 24th June 2013
Building community-led homes in Oxford: Oxford Cohousing
Would you like to live where your children can play outside safely, and where there’s always someone to watch out for you as you get older? Where you have the privacy of your own home and also access to shared facilities such as gardens, dining room, workshops? This is cohousing. We are a group of Oxford residents who believe that by pooling our resources we can build such a community. Not just for ourselves, but for others who wish to join us including up to half from the housing register.
We know it can be done. There are long established cohousing developments in Dorset and Gloucestershire, and in the last twelve months two new ones in Lancaster and Leeds with at least 20 others in the pipeline. A close relation of cohousing, cooperative homes, are common in Sweden Norway the Netherlands and Denmark. Cohousing has really taken off in the Netherlands and Denmark. In Denmark 8% of over 50s live in cohousing.
Here in Oxford one of the most expensive cities in the country we face great challenges. That’s why we’re here talking to you. With your help we can succeed.
B SO WHO ARE WE?
We are a diverse group all ages creeds and colour but most of us have houses to sell to fund the project. We started planning about three years ago. We have set up a Company Ltd by Guarantee and we have local support from both councillors and Oxford residents. We have been looking for land within the ring road to build 20-40 homes including the usual quota of affordable ones. But we’re having to compete with developers who have deeper pockets than ours. So we’re finding it really hard.
C WHY WOULD COHOUSING BE GOOD FOR OXFORD?
Lots of benefits with cohousing: energy efficient homes with small gardens and shared green space. Car sharing, so we’ll need less land for parking. Bulk purchase of food will ensure high quality even for people on £53 a week.
Cooperating with each other and being good neighbours helps meet our social needs. We already have several members with a disability and that is a critical strand in our thinking as some others of us are feeling our age. We know that cooperatively run housing reduces demand on local services, and leads to greater wellbeing, citizenship and happiness.
We could say much more now but instead invite you to read more by looking at the leaflet which was sent out with this paper or by visting us via our website.
D HOW YOU CAN HELP
We invite you to support our enterprise. You could make Oxford City a leading edge council in supporting community-led housing projects. This is real big society in action not the masquerade presented by Whitehall as a cloak for predatory capitalism.
There are three specific things we’d like you to do:
1. LAND: Help us find land: We need 1½ acres or so within the ring road. But most of all we need some kind of preferred bidder status because we can’t raise money as quickly as the big developers. For example having some extra time between contract and completion would give us time to raise the money/sell our existing homes to pay for land. If we buy at a below-market price we will lock in the benefit to keep the homes permanently affordable.
2. POLICY: Enable this project by being flexible with your policies.
2.1 Planning: It may be that the only suitable land is not currently designated for housing. We may need flexibility around parking (we’d want fewer cars than is usual). We may want higher density homes to keep land for gardens.
2.2 Nominations: We will need flexibility around nominations. We want a mixed community. If nearly half our residents are going to come from the Housing Needs Register we need to think about how best to do this so as not to compromise the social viability of the project. We want people who will commit to our cooperative way of working and put time into our project. So we need to find them early to participate in our planning process. Several officers and councillors have already shown openness to this. We need a firm agreement in principle now, pending formalizing it in the planning legal agreement. There needs to be a double hurdle for access to the cohousing social rented homes: people being nominated for social homes must show not just evidence of housing need but also commitment to the project.
2.3 Local lettings: We want to benefit people from our immediate area: if we build in Wolvercote we would want some social rented homes to go to people with a Wolvercote connection. Your current policy doesn’t allow this.
2.4: Existing council tenants: We want members who already live in social rented homes to be able to move into cohousing. Currently there is no provision for that without downsizing.
3. PROJECT WORKER: Take the lead and joint-fund a project worker with us to support community-led homes including cohousing. No other city has done this.
We have some cash to fund a project worker. Meet us half way and help us to do this.
E AND FINALLY
Picture a future in which you have enabled us to set up several supportive mixed tenure communities in the city. And a model for others to follow across the UK.
Our next meetingTBC.
Florence Park Community Centre, Oxford OX4 3NH