architecture equality lifestyle

Building of the week: LILAC co-housing

Standing for ‘Low Impact Living Affordable Community’, LILAC is a co-housing development in the city of Leeds. It consists of 20 low impact homes and shared neighbourhood facilities, all built on the site of an old school.

The homes themselves are made from timber and straw cartridges, manufactured by Modcell and assembled onsite. If you haven’t come across it before, Modcell’s approach is a neat combination of traditional and natural straw building techniques, and modern off-site prefabrication. The result is a quick and highly efficient build that sequesters enough carbon to make it carbon-negative.

Each home has solar PV and solar hot water, and high insulation levels and triple glazing keep heating needs low. Mechanical ventilation controls air and moisture without losing heat.

Shared facilities reduce the lifestyle impacts of residents further, while also building community. There’s a central house with a kitchen for regular shared meals, office and play space, a laundry, and guest rooms that can be booked. The common house also hosts workshops and local events for the wider community. Outside, there are communal gardens, a playground, ponds and allotments.

The ownership of homes is innovative too, as LILAC is the first development set up using a Mutual Home Ownership model. Essentially, residents are all members of a cooperative, which owns the land and houses, making them their own landlords. People pay into a collective mortgage based on an equitable share of their income, structured so that people can use the equity they have built up if they move out and buy elsewhere.

Co-housing is more common elsewhere – LILAC is based on a Danish model. In Britain, where “an Englishman’s home is his castle”, it’s a very counter-cultural idea. But then the model of privately owned homes paid for with a long-term mortgage is failing us spectacularly. It’s a huge driver of inequality, with younger people and those on lower incomes locked out entirely. Co-housing projects like this point to a fairer way of providing homes, in a way that builds community and resilience.

LILAC was the first mutual ownership co-housing project, and others are in development in York, Liverpool and Stroud. Other co-housing models exist too, and there are a growing number of them – see the UK Co-housing Network for more examples. They look like good places to raise a family, and also good places to grow old – especially in an aging society where many older people live alone. While they won’t be for everyone, I hope we will hear a lot more about co-housing.




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