Transition tales #17: In land we trust

In their efforts to fight displacement and gentrification, London citizens are coming up with their own alternative: Community Land Trusts. It appears the government is listening.

With the municipality trying to battle the housing crisis, London citizens have started to take matters into their own hands through a new initiative for ‘affordable’ homes: community land trusts. Can this movement, that directly challenges the market rate, be a viable solution?

London’s East End, historically one of the poorest areas of the city, offers a fascinating overview of the city’s housing crisis. On the one hand, East End has been the subject of a series of redevelopment projects focussed on solving London’s housing shortage. On the other hand, it is also an area where former Victorian workhouses are reborn into luxury apartments as ‘The Lodge’ – a two-bedroom apartment which can be yours for only £999,995. Seems like you get a £5 bargain, probably due to the graveyard situated in proximity.

In between these contrasting situations, a new movement took form: the East London Community Land Trust. This community initiative tries to battle gentrification and displacement by setting up local wages as indicators for local housing prices. The St. Clement site in East London marks the start of a new Community Land Trust experiment, where 23 houses within the redevelopment plan are given to local residents at more than half of the original selling price.

Switching the housing sector from the property markets towards the labour market, Community Land Trusts (CLT) offer promising alternatives for the local communities. Still, keeping in mind that the property market is the main driver behind the housing sector, can this alternative be more than just an experiment?

Community Land Trusts come across as a positive solution for the housing crisis and community displacement in London. St Clement’s transformation represents the best example, where the CLT offers one-bed apartments for £130,000, as opposed to £450,000 which is the starting price for the rest of the development. Not only that, but the members selection focuses on resides that have connection with the area in order to foster community building. ‘Community’ is the central idea of this measure. To be more specific, Community Land Trusts (CLT) represent a form of community-led housing, where residents set up local organisations run by ordinary people to develop and manage homes as well as other elements important to that community (workspaces, food growing, etc.) The main task of a CLT is to make sure the home prices are indeed affordable, having a continuous perspective on the local wages in the area.

Advertised as ‘permanently affordable’ homes sounds indeed like a ‘holy grail’ in times of crisis. As any amazing offer though, CLT comes with a catch. ‘Permanently affordable homes’ is indeed what CLT is all about. As such, when current residents decide to leave their affordable homes, they have to sell them at the prices set by local wages, hence the ‘permanently’ advertisement. Being part of a CLT takes away the financial potential coming from the property market. It seems ‘affordable houses’ do come at an extra price.

“It’s about changing the narrative of housing: building homes rather than investment units; having security and stability in a particular place, rather than being forced to move every six months; and mobilising popular support for development.” – Catherine Harrington, director National Community Land Trust Network

Still, taking into account the ‘catch’ behind the CLT, more Londoners are showing interest in the initiative. This citizen movement is attracting attention from the government. As the Guardian notes, in December, the government announced a new £300m Community Housing Fund in support of CLTs. Read the whole article here.

London is still trying to battle the housing crisis and it seems CLTs might provide a new opportunity. With the experiment at St. Clement on its way, and more funding secured for the movement, London might offer a fresh insight in the housing crisis not just for the UK, but also for other cities facing the same situation.

Watch the video below for a quick overview of the ‘making-off’ for a Community Land Trust.

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