Article From Up Our Street – Spring 2015
Turning Office Buildings Into Homes
Many readers of Up Our Street will be one of thousands of local people living in private rented housing. Sadly some will have a troubling story to tell of poor quality housing, high rents and being left in a vulnerable situation by landlords more interested in profit than providing homes.
Over the past two years a group of people who were concerned about the need for housing and the unfair power relationship between landlords and tenants, got together to see what they could do about it. We met Redfield resident David Mowat, who told us more about Abolish Empty Office Buildings (AEOB) and its plans for the future.
“Our interest is in helping those who are living in vulnerable private rented housing and who want to live in a social housing community. Our model is a cooperative where we raise the money to buy and renovate a property which is then rented out at a fair rate” explains David.
In 2014, AEOB raised the funds to buy a building on Battens Lane in St George. They sold investment shares from £50 or more and secured a loan from Triodos bank. They currently have around £270,000 and need to raise a further £130,000 for refurbishment. “We have an investor who will match £400,000 and the full development will cost about £900,000 so that’s our target. This is an opportunity for anyone with an interest in social justice and some spare cash to contribute to making this project work” says David.
Battens Lane will become six flats with a shared laundry, community room and garages which can be used as creative or workshop space. The concept of living in a cooperative is much more common on the continent and David thinks that we could achieve a lot by creating more of these communities in the UK. “Lots of people have limited resources or need huge mortgages to buy a home.
Our model is about involving the people who will live in the homes in all of the process. If people have skills in building then they can help with construction, in return for reduced rent for the first year, for example. Our thinking is very much about how we can make homes work for people by sharing what we can. We are different from the standard housing association model where the power dynamic remains the same as the private sector and the tenant has to lobby the landlord for anything. Ours is a more equal relationship.”
AEOB also has a clear political position. They are against the continual building of office blocks which remain empty for years when the land could be used for providing much needed housing. “Developers with lots of resources can sit on empty buildings for years, purely to make the highest profit. We feel this is immoral when we have a real need for more affordable housing now” adds David. “We want to raise this higher up the political agenda as well as showing what committed people can do on a small scale.”
Rent from Battens Lane will go into paying off the loan. creating a repair fund and providing a small dividend to shareholders. “I’d say ours is an ‘enlightened’ business model where foremost is people’s need, not the market. We need a shift back to decent renting in this country.”
AEOB is looking for anyone interested in living at Battens Lane and being part of the cooperative. “We want to help those people who have a constant battle with their landlords and are interested in living in a more communal way” says David. They are also keen for more people to invest to make the full vision a reality. “Shares start at £50 and provide an opportunity to use your money for good – providing decent homes for people who need them.”
Article appears on Page 12