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London CLT: providing affordable, stable housing in the capital for those in need

In London, the case for housing that people can actually afford is rarely out of the headlines. In response, London Community Land Trust (London CLT) was set up by the national charity Citizens UK to deliver genuinely and permanently affordable homes for ordinary Londoners to ensure they can stay where they belong.

The charity is, in fact, the UK’s largest civic alliance and organises communities to act together for power, social justice and the common good and has put its weight behind London CLT and its plans.

The current generation of Londoners is facing house prices that are, depending on the area you’re in, somewhere between 7 and 31 times average incomes. And, since banks will typically lend only 4 times your income, it is already virtually impossible to get started without a hefty deposit. No wonder this generation has been called “generation rent”. It is forcing ordinary people to move out of areas where they belong and call home.

The community-owned, community-governed not-for-profit, the London Community Land Trust was set up to help solve the problem by building homes that are about family and community. Instead of maximising the profit from building houses, the Land Trust sells them at prices that people can afford by not taking the profit. And, what’s more, it plans to keep it that way by connecting the cost of homes to earnings, rather than house prices, ensuring they’re affordable for the long term. The Land Trust is effectively removing the kind of property speculation that contributes to the housing boom-and-bust and gives residents a stable home for as long as they want it. London CLT was the first urban community land trust in the UK but has now inspired many others.

Tower Hamlets is a typical case of escalating property prices. The borough has the fastest growing population in England and has 24,000 on its housing waiting list (The Guardian, June 14). The average cost of a home is now more than £620,000 and is rising fast. This is causing a fragmentation of community as ordinary working people that have lived here for generations are being priced out of the area where they belong. But there is now a glimmer of hope for local residents as the East London Community Land Trust has secured 23 homes as part of a Grade II-listed former hospital in St Clements, Mile End, where it is working with the Greater London Authority, Galliford Try, JTP Architects, and the Peabody Trust. These properties are being sold – and will be resold – at prices linked to one third of the median income for the borough and are made available by the CLT to people with a strong local connection, who genuinely need the houses and would not be able to afford anything on the open market. It was the support of over 1000 members of the local Land Trust that managed to sway the vote and see this former hospital – built by public subscription – returned to community use. It is an exemplar project, won the 2014 National Housing Award, and as Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, said at the opening:
“I hope this is the first of many such schemes that transforms empty sites and helps ease housing demand. This innovative housing scheme has the local community at the heart of it and is delivering permanently low cost homes and creating jobs.”

It is a practical, innovative solution with the potential to be replicated across the borough to create more affordable homes for more local people in need.

Where next? Well, London Community Land Trust hopes to develop many more people-powered projects across the capital using the East London Community Land Trust business model. The idea is to deliver permanently affordable housing in London to ensure people are no longer priced out of neighbourhoods where they have roots. They aim to benefit those with a serious housing need because they are unable to purchase or rent a home large enough for their family needs. This will ensure these people can stay in areas where they belong: where their children go to school, where their friends are, and where they work.

London CLT has been working hand-in-glove with Resonance, the social investment company, to help work out the financial architecture for the CLT as it grows. Resonance has a particular pedigree when it comes to CLTs because one of its former Directors was one of the founding fathers of the movement and that has left a legacy of expertise and enthusiasm for what CLTs can deliver.

The Community Land Trust thinks their model is an under-explored strand to meet housing needs in the capital and that affordable housing is a collective good for neighbourhoods. Looking to the longer-term, they also want to enable the provision of community spaces – for events, culture, workspace, outdoors – as part of “good development” that is at the Trust’s core. They are offering a vision of what is possible and are now in discussions about multiple sites right across the capital. The project is currently small but is attracting attention in high places and national TV (see interview on the BBC this month here). 

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