Hundreds of people struggling to afford their own home in Bristol are trying a new way to beat the city’s housing crisis – by joining together and building their own.
More than 500 people have joined the Bristol Community Land Trust, which aims to solve the city’s housing shortage by enabling people who need them to build them.
The first project, which has now been officially opened, involved 12 homes built in Fishponds, and there are bigger plans for almost 50 more on land in Lockleaze.
The way they do it is by pooling resources, the people who paid a pound to become members of the Trust effectively create their own, not-for-profit housing developer.
It’s been almost a year since the first of the 12 on Fishponds Road were finished and now, with the last one completed and lived in, the man tasked with getting two thousand homes built a year by 2020 has welcomed this small, but important step.
Councillor Paul Smith, the cabinet member for housing, said even though it was a small number of homes, giving people the opportunity to pro-actively get involved in creating their homes was an important addition to the mix of solutions to the housing crisis.
The city council sold the land off Fishponds Road to the Bristol Community Land Trust (BCLT), and are also involved in the project in Lockleaze too. One of the 12 families to move in to Fishponds Road was Edurne Urzelai, who now lives there with her partner and two children.
She described the communal effort as all 12 families worked on getting each other’s homes built and finished off inside.
“We attended meetings to discuss plans for the houses, and were then involved with the building and self-finishing process,” she said. “We worked with our neighbours on each other’s kitchens, bathroom tiling, flooring, the decorating, sharing existing skills and learning new ones together.
“It brought us all together, created bonds and not only have we built a house, we’ve also built a community. The feeling that we’ve all done it together and have a shared experience is really powerful. “This type of development brings very special things … it’s affordable, it’s empowering, you meet new and like-minded people, it brings a lot of opportunities and shows there is definitely another way,” she added.
The homes in the new mini-development are a mixture of shared ownership, where people pay rent and a mortgage to own a share of the house, and a more straightforward affordable rent.
For Natalia Colville, the rocketing rents in this part of Bristol meant she and her son faced moving out of the city. After spending more than a decade travelling the country with a circus, getting to the top of the long council house waiting list would have been impossible.
In the summer, the Post revealed how more than 700 people on the HomeChoice list applied to move into each one of four new homes built by a housing association.
“I spent more than ten years touring with the circus but wanted to settle when my son needed to go to school,” said Natalia, a circus producer and festival and street theatre programmer.
“We took up a privately rented house in Bristol, but as I’m on a low, part-time income I was struggling to make ends meet after paying the rent.
“Millions of other people will be in the same situation; rents are high and don’t balance with earnings.
“This opportunity has made life so much easier, my monthly costs are way less and we’re no longer having to think about what happens if a landlord gives notice, it’s really safe and secure. Community-led housing is the way forward; anyone can get together and build homes in the same way,” she added.
Keith Cowling, the chairman of the volunteer board of the trust’s 512 one-pound members, said the members moving into the new homes benefit from secure tenancies.
That’s something people living on the nearby main road and the terraced streets of Fishponds and Easton nearby, where landlords will bump up the rent by £200 a month at the drop of a hat, or simply serve notice to evict and move someone else in paying more two months later, can only dream of.
“The Fishponds Road development has really changed the lives of people who live there, which reminds you of why we’re doing this”, he said.
“And it’s easy to see just how; tenants benefit from five-year, fixed-term contracts, giving them long-term security. Rents are charged at roughly 80 per cent of the assessed market rate for that property.
They can also take comfort in knowing how the rents will change over the next three years; the CLT has found a way to actually reduce the rents a little each year, which also demonstrates its commitment to being an ethical landlord,” he added.