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Jane Hughes Writer, editor, yoga teacher

Homes by housing associations

From copper and timber clad flats in Hoxton to white walled terraces in Bow, some of the most eye-catching new homes in London are being built by housing associations - and they're for sale. That might seem like a contradiction in terms - surely the purpose of these non profit making organisations should be to provide affordable homes and assist people struggling to get a foothold on the property ladder?

But housing associations can be canny operators. And many are fast realising the benefits of doubling up as private developers in order to cross subsidise their stock of affordable homes. As registered social landlords (RSLs) they are producing innovative schemes that mix in property for private sale with shared ownership and affordable rented homes.

"RSLs are waking up to the fact that in medium and low value locations they can compete with private developers to buy entire sites, rather than simply providing the affordable housing element in a private scheme," says James Brown, director of affordable accommodation projects at Savills.

Brown has identified a "flip effect" that occurs when residential values dip to between £360 and £380 per square foot. "At this point, RSLs can often outbid private developers because they don't need to make a profit," he says. "They can then increase the amount of social housing on a site, while taking commercial advice on how to specify and sell the private homes."

Over the past couple of years, Toynbee Housing Association has begun to build such mixed tenure developments at high densities in East London, using the income from private sales as a cross-subsidy. Spokesman Paul Lincoln says the private homes sell well, though the key is to "choose a good location".

Toynbee's latest is Amazone E1 in Aldgate East. A block of 53 flats with a white render and coloured steel facade, it has five glass-walled two bedroom flats for sale on the sixth floor. Completion is next month (((April)) and prices range from £259.950 to £339.950.

In Bermondsey, Hyde Housing Association recently started work on the Artesian Building - an eight storey development of 73 flats, 43 of which will be for private sale. Part of the Bermondsey Spa regeneration - where more than 1,000 new homes are planned - it overlooks a small park on Grange Road. Prices start at £215,000 for one bedroom, with first completions in Spring 2007.

So how do buyers rate these schemes? Airline worker Sarah McClorey, 36, bought off plan at Fabrika - a mini neighbourhood of 40 white walled terraced houses and flats in Bow. She thought the scheme, off Old Ford Road, was well designed and offered value for money. It wasn't until she saw the lease for her £238.500 two bedroom flat with large patio that she realised the developer - Circle 33 Lifespace - was a housing association.

That didn't put her off. "Every large London scheme includes affordable housing and the developers here have been fantastic," she says. "I love the look of Fabrika - the white walls, terraces and patios all reminded me of Spain."

Designed by Peter Barber Architects around pedestrian streets and an intimate public square, Fabrika cleverly manages to be both low rise and high density. The fact that it is a car free scheme and a fair old walk from the nearest station did, it appears, hamper sales of the 30 private homes, though all have now been sold.

But for Sarah, the pedestrian street as a plus. "Everyone walks in the same way so I've met many of my new neighbours and I feel like I'm part of a community," she says.

In Stockwell, meanwhile, the Metropolitan Housing Partnership's rolling out the cross-subsidy formula to fund a sheltered housing scheme for older people has been a hit. The convenience of Lingham Court - which has 46 private street front flats with sheltered accommodation at the rear - has attracted many City workers and doctors looking for pied a terres. Only a few flats remain, priced from £165,000 for one bedroom to £220,000 for two bedrooms.

Similarly convenient is Nile Street, a £17.1million copper and timber clad scheme by the Peabody Trust near Old Street tube station in Hoxton. The architects are Munkenbeck&Marshall, designers of the Gainsborough Studios in Islington and Paddington Walk at the revamped Paddington Basin.

Of the 175 flats, 47 are being sold privately with prices for the remaining two bedroom homes ranging from £390,000 to £450,000. The rest are a mix of rented key worker, affordable rent and shared ownership properties.

Freelance writer Sharon Floate, 53, and her partner, signmaker Brian Heppel, 64, have just moved into a one bedroom flat here and say they are impressed with the building's striking appearance and the quality of interior finish. "We'd been renting in the Barbican but couldn't afford to buy there and came across Nile Street by accident," says Sharon.

"The location and price were right, we liked the architects and we were reassured by the fact that Peabody has a long established reputation we could trust."

For Sharon and Brian, the range of occupants was another attraction. "We liked the idea of living amongst people from different generations and backgrounds," says Sharon. "In a private development, you often get a lot of buy to let flats with a high turnover of tenants, whereas we felt there would be a greater sense of community and continuity at Nile Street."