Yael Arbell

Yael Arbell


Community-led housing: Commoners and commoning in neoliberal times

Community-led housing (CLH) is a promising model for socially and environmentally sustainable living. It is also a very small fraction of the housing sector in the UK. Could CLH be part of the solution to UK’s housing crisis and benefit more people? Focusing on the social aspects and taking a critical realist approach, this research looked for mechanisms that make CLH work, and identified who it worked for, under what circumstances - and why. Using mixed-methods, it contributes qualitative insights on housing cooperatives and cohousing communities, thereby filling a gap in qualitative work on UK housing cooperatives. The quantitative work provided new data on the social profile of cohousing in England. 

The main findings and arguments are set out in three papers, engaging with three research questions: what are the visions and aims of CLH; what kind of social relations form in CLH; what kinds of identities and subjectivities develop in CLH. The paper: “’A Place That is Different from the Usual Capitalist World’: The Potential of Community-led Housing as Safe and Just Spaces” (chapter 3), deploys Nancy Fraser’s theory of justice to argue that the social relations in CLH can create safe and just spaces by responding to socio-economic, cultural-symbolic and political injustice. The paper, “Contested Subjectivities in a UK Housing Cooperative: Old hippies and Thatcher’s Children Negotiating the Commons” (chapter 4), shows how neoliberalisation affected members’ subjectivities and visions over time. The paper, “Beyond Affordability: English Cohousing as White Middle-Class Spaces” (chapter 5), applies a Bourdieusian analysis to show that the main barrier to diversity in UK cohousing is cultural rather than purely economic, since its core practices and values reproduce classed (and racialised) distinctions.

Overall, my contribution is both theoretical and practical. Theoretically, I develop the concepts of safe space (in the context of justice and neoliberal oppression), the cooperative subject and the two-way relation between habitus and class perception. I introduce the concept of minimalist and maximalist visions of the commons, which affect the practice of commoning, and propose a framework to consider the impact of visions, social practices and subjectivities on commoning. Practically, I point at the benefits of CLH for its members; the practical ways commons can challenge neoliberalisation; and the way exclusionary practices operate in the cohousing sector and beyond.


Research Affiliations


  • University Research Scholarship


  • Arbell, Y. Middlmiss, L. Chatterton, P. (2019). ‘Contested Subjectivities in a UK Housing Cooperative: Old Hippies and Thatcher’s Children negotiating the commons’. Geoforum
  • Arbell, Y. (Forthcoming). "A place that is different from the usual capitalist world": the potential of Community-led housing as safe and just spaces. SJJS.  
  • Arbell, Y. (Forthcoming). Beyond Affordability: English Cohousing Communities as White Middle Class Spaces. 
  • Arbell, Y. (2016). Procedural Liberalism in the service of Ethnocracy and as a space for resistance: the case of Dahmash. Geography Research Forum (GRF): Special issue: The spatial dimensions of informality: power and law. 36, 2016.

Book review

  • Arbell, Y. (2016). The re-emergence of co-housing in Europe. International Journal of Housing Policy. 13 Sep 2016 (Online)

Conferences presentations

Arbell, Y. 2018. ‘Cohousing and diversity: research findings and personal experiences’. Invited Keynote talk at the Intentional Communities Symposium. Cardiff Metropolitan University, June. 

Arbell, Y. 2018. ‘Beyond Affordabiliy: diversity in cohousing communities’. Inclusive Collaborative Housing Futures, Birmingham University. 

Arbell, Y. 2017. 'English Community-led Housing: Creating Alternatives in Neoliberal Times'. SASE (Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics) Annual Meeting, June 2017, Lyon.

Arbell, Y. 2017. 'Age and engagement in cohousing: how can homogenous groups plan for diversity?'. RGG-IBG Annual International Conference, 29th August-1st September, London.

Arbell, Y. 2017. 'The Community Mural as a Political Space'. RGS-IBG Annual International Conference, 29th August-1st September, London.

Arbell, Y. 2017.  'Political identities and neoliberal subjectivities in a housing cooperative'. RC21 international conference: Rethinking Global Urban Justice, 11-13th September, Leeds.


  • 2015: MA Activism and Social Change, The School of Geography, The University of Leeds (Distinction)
  • 2007: BA History, Tel Aviv University (Magna cum Laude)
  • 2005: Democratic Education qualification, Hakibuzzim College, Tel Aviv