A Day in the Life of a New Co-op Member

As I wake up to the morning sun shining down bright onto our 3rd floor balcony, I start my morning ritual of drinking tea whilst watching whatever passes by in the greenness of Leaf Street Community Garden space. The satisfaction of this is only granted more firmly in the knowledge that I am now part of the UK’s  leading network of radical co-ops whose members are committed to working for positive social change.

I was generously welcomed into Rockdove Rising Housing Co-op around 2 months ago in the cold Autumn of 2016 after 2 years of uncertain living conditions. As a Community Activist and Permaculture Gardener for local refugees and asylum seekers, it can be a tricky ordeal convincing your landlords of the Capitalistic compliance to ensure their properties remain profitable and highly unenjoyable.

That is when I found Rockdove Rising.

As if the planets aligned just right in the cosmic sky, Rockdove Rising scooped me out of the ever-deepening Capitalist pit and thrust me into the full energy of the Radical Routes network. I naively asked my fellow members if it would be possible for me to grow food here in my new home. They laughed and told me we have our own community garden here. I asked is there anywhere I could fix bikes. They once again laughed and told me we have our bike club here. I asked if I can cook the food I grow and share it with my neighbours. You guessed it, we have a People’s Kitchen.

With plans going ahead to purchase new flats and expand the Rockdove Rising Empire, you can’t help but smile at the multi- million pound, gentrified flats being built across the street in droves. I smile in the knowing that all the members of the Hulme Red Bricks Estate in which we are situated, has something so much more.

December 2016: Rockdove is Rising..

A lot has happened recently at RDR. The Co-op has grown and we now house ten members across four flats. That includes the first Rockdove baby, little Elmo!

Currently we have 10 members across a three-bedroom flat on Rockdove Avenue, two two- bedroom flats on Hunmanby Avenue and a one bedroom flat on Humberstone Avenue. As a co-op we are focused on buying the flats, which we currently rent. The original plan, as set out in the 2015 investor’s pack, was to buy a house using loanstock and a Radical Routes loan. However, the rapidly rising house prices on the Redbricks estates have made it difficult to achieve this. Each time we got the money together, the market value of the houses went up before we could apply for the loan (acquiring a Radical Routes loan is a slow process). Rapidly rising house prices really mess with the business model! A key aim of the co-op is to counter the gentrification that rising house prices are a part of and we are definitely in the eye of storm, with the flats going up over £30,000 last year.

So, a change of plan. We are now applying to get a mortgage on one or two flats in the next few months. We’re hopeful that we will be successful and are currently crunching the numbers. Watch this space..

Current Housing Situation – April 2015

Hey folks, here’s an update on our current housing situation.

We have been given notice to vacate #75 Rockdove Avenue as of 9th May. This has meant that we have all been looking for new places to house Hannah, Jess and Paula. In addition,  Mike has been keen to join the co-op for some time, and fortunately we have now been able to rehouse everyone. This has come about through rental of a two-bedroom property on Hunmanby Avenue, our first property on this street (we now have a property on each street of the estate 🙂 ) and some juggling with the other flats.

A number of other flats are also potentially available on the estate in the coming months, to rent and buy, and if we have the membership we will be able to take those on also. One of the good things about our estate and about our housing model is that we are quite flexible with respect to obtaining flats, and that the loss of a flat such as #75 is really just a logistical matter. We are however looking forward to making some purchases so that there is no uncertainty regarding residency on an ongoing basis.

A, J, P, J, D, G, M, H, I.

Rockdove Rising accepted as full members of Radical Routes!

Hurray!! 🙂 Rockdove Rising Housing Co-operative Ltd. were accepted as full members of the national umbrella co-operative Radical Routes at their last quarterly gathering in Bradford on 14th February 2015. This was the culmination of a year-long application process in which Rockdove Rising attended several preliminary gatherings and addressed a number of issues associated with membership, in particular our views on the relation between co-operatives and social housing (see HERE for a fuller discussion), and various iterations of our BUSINESS MODEL.

Membership of Radical Routes provides Rockdove Rising with access to a large network of co-ops and individuals with a great deal of experience in managing and financing housing and workers co-operatives. Membership enables us to access loans from Radical Routes, and provides us with financial oversight and general support in the running of the co-op.

Rockdove Rising in return have committed to being core members of the Radical Routes Publicity Working Group, producing publicity materials and attending promotional events throughout the country (and overseas) on behalf of Radical Routes.

Paula, Jess, Johno, Gaz, Mike, Damien, Hannah, Aidan, Johno,

LOANSTOCK OFFER

Rockdove Rising will be issuing up to £195,000 of LOANSTOCK between May 1st and October 31st 2015.

This will enable us to purchase a number of flats across the estate for housing our members. We have produced an INVESTORS PACK which describes the co-op, the investment offer, and the business model upon which it is based, in greater detail. The highly competitive rates of interest that we are offering on our loanstock investment are shown in the table below:

Loanstock Interest Table

If you are ready to invest in the co-op, please see our LOANSTOCK PLEDGE FORM.

We look forward to hearing from you!!

All at Rockdove Rising 🙂

 

 

New Members Required!

Rockdove Rising have acquired a third (rented) flat and are looking for new members. We need one member right now and another three potential members for a fourth flat that we may be purchasing next year.

At present there is a double room available from the beginning of November 2014 (date flexible).

Rockdove Rising Housing Co-op currently consists of three flats and has seven co-op members. We will soon have a spare double-room room in one of our three-bedroom flats and we’re looking for someone to take this room and become our eighth co-op member.

The flat is really nice and cosy and the large double-room comes furnished with a bed and a few other items of furniture. The flat has a large living room, a kitchen, a bathroom and a beautiful balcony with runner beans and basil plants, and looks over the lush Leaf Street. There is a bike storage room available (Rockdoves like to cycle) and the flat has a vegetarian food only policy.

The new member will be joining two female flatmates – Heisser and Jess – who both like playing musical instruments.

Rockdove Avenue forms part of the ‘Redbricks’ Estate, which has a history of social and political activism, and there is a good community spirit on the estate. More about the estate can be found out at www.redbricks.org.

Members of Rockdove Rising contribute to a number of community activities (such as running an estate bike club), as well as being involved in groups that work for educational, feminist, food, housing and environmental causes, political autonomy and justice. Being a member of Rockdove Rising is not just about renting a room but about being part of a community, being your own landlord, taking control of your own living space, and about social and political activism.

In the future we aim to join Radical Routes (a network of radical co-ops whose members are
committed to working for positive social change), grow as a housing co-operative and we hope more housing co-ops will be created in the Redbricks and possibly join to make a bigger and stronger co- op. We’d expect a new co-op member to want to get involved and help make this exciting stuff happen. You can find out more elsewhere on this website.

The rent for the room is £230/mth + bills.

If you have any questions or would like to see the room, please email us at
rockdove.rising@gmail.com or give Jess a ring on 07772 912 157.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Jess, Heisser, Aidan, Johno, Gaz, Damien, Iain

Rockdove Rising acquires 3rd Flat!

Rockdove Rising continues to grow and have now rented a third flat on the estate, on Humberstone Avenue. It’s a two-bed flat on the ground floor and has a large living room and lovely garden.

This has freed up a room at no. 75 so we are actively recruiting for a new member!! Please get in touch with us if you are interested.

Aidan, Jess, Heisser, Gaz, Iain, Johno, Damien

Housing Co-ops and Social Housing

Housing co-ops and social housing

By Rockdove Rising Housing Co-op

 

We are writing this article to continue the discussion begun by Tony of Mary Ann Johnson Housing Co-operative in his contribution ‘What housing options should Radical Routes support?published in the last edition of Radical Rumours (May 2014). In his article Tony discusses the nature of Radical Routes, Housing Co-ops, Social Housing and the interrelations between the three. His main theme is the purchase of ‘right-to-buy’ (RTB) social housing and whether or not this is ethically acceptable for a Radical Routes co-op.

Firstly, we need to lay our cards on the table and say that we at Rockdove Rising (RdR for short) are currently in the market for a flat (or flats) on the ‘Redbricks’ estate in Hulme, Manchester, and the only properties on the estate are either actual social housing or former social housing previously purchased under the RTB scheme. However, this is the estate we live on (we currently rent two flats from private landlords), and it is the estate we wish to continue living on. The resolution of this debate is, therefore, of direct significance and bearing on both our potential membership and future use of Radical Routes’ loan-making facilities.

The debate we think falls into two distinct parts:

  1. Purchase of de facto social housing vs. purchase of former social housing, and;

  1. Whether or not Radical Routes housing co-ops are indeed a form of social housing.

We would like to discuss, under these two headings, the various points raised by Tony in his article.

Purchase of de facto social housing vs. purchase of former social housing.

Generally speaking, and in no cases so far as we are aware, are housing co-ops tenants of other social housing providers, e.g. housing associations or councils. Housing co-ops tend not to apply for social housing themselves, may well not be eligible should they wish to do so, and are therefore not in the first instance likely to be exercising the RTB of de facto social housing. Thus, on a practical level, there are no actual situations (that we are aware of) in which this is happening.

More likely, and the situation in which RdR finds itself, is the purchase of former social housing, either from the first buyer, or some subsequent buyer. Tony suggests that:

“…we (Radical Routes) should refuse loans to any co-op who buys an ex RTB if it’s from the first owner. After all, that’s where the profit margin is at the most hefty and we would be supporting someone making a big, big profit from social housing.”

However, we at RdR are nonetheless looking to buy a property, and we therefore need to deal with the realities of the market place, i.e. actual house prices. To begin to debate how much profit it is appropriate for someone else to make on the sale of their house begs the question ‘Where do you draw the line?’. On this ground other examples of ethically questionable profit making include both solicitors fees (often well in excess of £100/hr) and estate agents’ commissions (usually a few percent), both of which will have been paid for by Radical Routes loans on numerous occasions.

It is beholden upon the members of a housing co-op to obtain the best price they can for the benefit of themselves and all future members. But we cannot expect to restrict ourselves only to sellers who are willing to disclose how much money they are making on a given sale, and the subset of those whose profit falls below some acceptable threshold. There is, in effect, no way of judging the issue.

However, in the limited experience of RdR, both of the private landlords from whom we rent have indicated that they would be willing to give us, as a co-op with social housing credentials (more on which in the second part of the discussion), a discount below the market rate of the properties. Both of our current landlords are people who exercised the right-to-buy, but both are nonetheless supportive of housing co-operatives. During discussions, one of them stated that, for him, it simply made financial sense to take advantage of the right-to-buy offer. He also indicated that he would be willing to come and, in his own words: “Spend an afternoon in the stocks” at a Radical Routes gathering, discussing why he exercised his right to buy. Frankly, neither of the landlords from whom RdR rent are people we would wish to ostracise, and not simply because we rely on them for our housing.

Granted that these two individuals are perhaps more socially minded than most in that they would be willing to offer discounts off market price, but the more general argument is that it is not individuals who are destroying social housing through greed, but government policy. This appears to be aimed at both eradicating social responsibility and maximising housing prices as the basis for a massively leveraged financial market. The fact of the matter is that the majority of people purchasing right-to-buy housing are just ordinary folk doing what makes economic sense to them, as opposed to profiteering capitalists on a social housing rampage.

At the end of the day, it does not make a difference to our co-op, or to the reclamation of private housing into what is arguably a social housing enterprise (more below), whether we pay X amount of money to person A, who has just bought the house under RTB, or to person B, who bought it off the person who exercised RTB, or to person Z somewhere else down the line. For us it is more valuable to capture from private ownership the most appropriate property for the co-op than to stand in judgement upon exactly who made what when.

It is also worth mentioning that the alternative would be leaving those flats already in private ownership to be likely bought by the person with the most money, a buy-to-rent, which for the most part are then rented out to people not in need of cheap housing AND NOT to people on benefits. Generally speaking, by housing co-ops buying up former social housing, they are preventing gentrification, preventing the pushing out of people in receipt of social security benefits, and are encouraging people who are less transient and want to have more of a stake in the place they live and get involved in community activism.

We do recognise we have somewhat side-stepped the issue of purchase of de facto social housing, due to the argument that practically-speaking it is not happening, but we do not wish to dismiss it simply on that basis. We believe that the question revolves around the nature of housing co-ops and whether or not they offer truly ‘social housing’, as is discussed more fully below.

Are Radical Routes housing co-ops actually a form of social housing?

This is perhaps a larger debate than can be had here, but there are a few things that we would like to consider.

One of the central points raised by Tony is that Radical Routes housing co-ops do not truly fulfil the criteria for social housing, on the basis that:

“We DO NOT take people most in need into our co-ops and homes. What we take is politically or environmentally active/aware comrades…. we are self selecting and we don’t house those ‘most in need’.”

and

“…local authorities have social housing to support people from vulnerable groups – we dont.”

We are open to discussion of basic defining principles of social housing, but as a starting point we have used the following definition from the website1of the housing charity Shelter:

Social housing is affordable housing

A key function of social housing is to provide accommodation that is affordable to people on low incomes. Limits to rent increases set by law mean that rents are kept affordable.

Social housing is allocated on the basis of need

Unlike in the private rented sector, where tenancies are offered by the landlord and letting agent to whomever they choose, social housing is distributed according to the local council’s allocation scheme. Since the Localism Act 2011, councils can decide who is or isn’t eligible to go on the waiting list for social housing. Out of those who meet the council’s criteria, legislation requires that certain groups be given ‘reasonable preference‘.

Briefly, ‘reasonable preference’ may be given to the following (according to Shelter):

  • If you are homeless or about to lose your home

  • If you are living in very poor conditions

  • If you have a medical condition

  • If you were seriously injured in the armed forces

  • If you need to live in the area to avoid hardship

  • If you are at risk of violence or threats

From these definitions it is clear that the term ‘social housing’ encompasses a broad spectrum of types of need or vulnerability to be addressed, from simple provision of low-cost housing to more comprehensive levels of care for the most vulnerable, i.e. people falling into several categories on the above list.

With respect to social housing being affordable housing, Radical Routes housing co-ops do clearly provide this, and is one of the central reasons they exist.

With respect to allocation on the basis of need, we acknowledge that social housing requires preference be given to people of those groups, rather than them being provided for incidentally, and we agree that RR does not necessarily show a preference for those in need. Nonetheless, it is likely that RR co-ops have and do provide housing to members of the listed groups, and maybe there are co-ops with selection criteria that assess need2.

Furthermore, if the state has sold assets which would have been used for preferentially supporting these groups, isn’t it better that we transfer those assets back into common ownership with a social purpose (which will convey benefits to those in need if we do our social change work well!), rather than leave them in private hands? We would also add that the aims of social housing are not only to provide those in need with affordable housing, but also to give people control over and security in their living circumstances, compared with the private sector. More generally housing co-ops have also in places been a response to council or housing association mismanagement, that local people know how and what’s needed and can provide it sometimes better than a large organisation with many staff wages.

On the Redbricks there is an existing community with a character and dynamism which could be erased if it was all slowly transferred from social to private ownership, and the role that social, political and environmental activists may play in influencing or developing their communities for the benefit of all should not be understated.

The Redbricks is perhaps unusual in the level of activism across the estate both historically and presently, and it is in no small part thanks to the commitment and dedication of activists that the estate has so many worthwhile community projects. Currently these include the Tenants and Residents Association, a monthly bring-and-swap exchange, a monthly People’s Kitchen’ providing cheap food to estate residents, a bike club providing free bike repairs and advice once a month, a sewing club that meets once a month, an estate internet collective (low-cost service provider), a community gardening group that meets regularly, a ‘Green Zone’ environmental group (which by itself has brought in over £100,000 worth of funding to the estate). The estate has also hosted community meetings to fight against the bedroom tax and has been working with the local housing association to improve housing allocation policy.

It is thus demonstrable that even if only the activists are provided with cheap housing then the subsequent payoff in terms of community services will have impacts in other areas where people find themselves vulnerable. More information about the Redbricks is available both at www.rockdove-rising.org.uk and at www.redbricks.org. RdR are still finalising their secondary rules, but community activism and participation is important to all members and it is likely that we will write a secondary rule for the co-op regarding involvement in estate activities.

To conclude, what is Radical Routes about if not that by providing ‘social housing’ of one sort or another it seeks to influence and address some of the wider societal problems that create those vulnerabilities in the first place? We would like to see the movement grow, and as it grows to generate sufficient surpluses to further focus on the most vulnerable sectors of society. It is partly a matter of scale. We are small, and so it does not seem that we can offer the services provided by the state. But proportionally it is quite likely that Radical Routes members contribute significantly more of their total available work capacity to addressing these problems than the state does. The intentions of the state are doubtful in the extreme, and the dismantling of the welfare state continues apace. It would be a pity if we did not have the confidence in our experience and capacity that we can indeed fill some of those gaps.

Aidan, Ana, Dan, Heisser, Damien, Gaz, Jess, Johno

(With thanks to various others who have been willing to discuss these issues and provide comments on an earlier draft)

2To what extent these things exist is debatable, but it may be worth conducting some form of survey amongst members to at least partially quantify how inclusive of those groups RR actually is. It is also worth noting that under the Department for Communities and Local Government ‘Planning Policy Statement 3: Housing’ co-operatives and other Industrial and Provident Societies are eligible for registration as Registered Providers of social housing.