OCF is delighted to be managing a charitable fund on behalf of Homes for Oxford, which is seeking pledges, donations and other philanthropic support to help them obtain a site to build permanently affordable homes in Oxford.
House prices in Oxford are up to 16 times the average income. This is considered a key driver of the high vacancy rates reported by most big local employers, and contributes to congestion in the city, with around 40,000 people commuting in and out of Oxford every day. Key workers such as bus drivers, teachers, council workers, doctors, shop assistants and care workers struggle to find housing to rent or buy that is genuinely affordable, especially with former council houses being sold or rented on the private market.
A new alliance of community-led housing groups has formed to address these problems. Homes for Oxford (HfO) is a coalition of several community-led housing groups: Oxfordshire Community Land Trust, Oxford Cohousing, Kindling Housing Coop and Happy House. HfO has just launched a ground-breaking, innovative and commercially competitive proposal for the Wolvercote paper mill site. The site is currently owned by Oxford University, which is inviting developers to buy and develop the land according to proposals for 190 homes that were approved by Oxford City Council in December.
HfO’s proposal is for a world-class eco-development that will ensure the maximum number of affordable homes on the site: at least 50%, and more if viable, with the remainder to be sold on the open market. To create genuinely affordable homes, they plan to use the Land Trust model to separate the land value from homes, which is achieved through a rent or an equity share. They will use cooperative leasing to ensure there is no right to buy: once you sell an affordable house on the open market it is no longer affordable to the average Oxford earner. HfO wishes to create a strong mixed-tenure community of market-rate and permanently affordable homes, enabling the long-term social and economic viability of the project and acting as a proof of concept for how such a project could be achieved elsewhere.
HfO Director Fran Ryan comments: “We are under no illusions about the level of competition we face from ‘the Goliaths’ that are the big developers, and we know we can’t compete with them in terms of price or credibility. However, what we can offer is a very different range of benefits: social, environmental and economic ones that are long term and of value to the whole city – and potentially to the country as a whole as a demonstration of how things could be done differently.”
The proposal for the Wolvercote paper mill site is for clusters of zero-carbon homes on pedestrianised streets, with one central spine road. There would be significantly reduced car ratios of one per household or less across the whole site, which would be made possible by car-sharing, car clubs and a frequent bus service to and within the development. Houses would be in a variety of different sizes, types and tenures (flats, terraces etc) to suit a mix of people, all built for high energy efficiency and configured in clusters to maximise mutual support and community.
The plan is to buy the site outright using a mix of donations, investments, soft loans and deposits from prospective residents. Oxfordshire Community Foundation is working with Homes for Oxford, providing a charitable fund to manage all pledges, and enable the collection of donations and other philanthropic support. OCF CEO Jayne Woodley comments: “The more people we can get involved in this unique community-led proposal to develop the Wolvercote paper mill site, the best chance Homes for Oxford has of being successful in its bid. Securing the site in this way would present both a historic moment and an incredible, ground-breaking opportunity to showcase what we can do to tackle the housing crisis by working together.”