ARTICLES Think people can’t have control over their neighbourhoods? Meet Community Land Trusts

Think people can’t have control over their neighbourhoods? Meet Community Land Trusts

Londoners are unfortunately all-too-familiar with their city’s affordable housing crisis which has caused many to move out of the city leaving their homes, families and friends behind.  Most Londoners agree that the capital needs affordable homes and that something must be done about it. But when many of the communities most affected by the crisis are struggling just to get by, challenging the status quo can seem impossible.  How can they even begin to tackle an issue of this scale and think of making any real change in a city where they are losing out to private developers?

CLTs are independent, non-profit organisations which facilitate ownership of assets such as land for the long-term benefit of the local community in a way that is governed democratically.  In the case of the London CLT, it focuses on capturing land to deliver genuinely and permanently affordable housing, linking the prices of homes to local wages in perpetuity. So even when residents move out, their lease will oblige them to sell their CLT home at this rate.

So how could this possibly work in London, a city notorious for dizzyingly-high house prices that bear no resemblance to what people actually earn? It all started when in 2013, London CLT achieved what many at the time thought was an impossible: it secured land for the first-ever CLT homes in London at the site of St Clements Hospital, a former NHS psychiatric hospital in East London. This was achieved through a long-fought grassroots campaign by London CLT’s long-term partner, community organising charity Citizens UK, which led to the Greater London Authority (GLA) asking the developer Linden homes to offer 23 CLT homes on the site.

Whilst the number of homes was less than what the CLT had originally hoped for, it was still a significant turning point as it provided living proof of this model of genuinely affordable housing and an inspiration for the movement to grow across the country.  

Ruman, one of the first-ever London CLT residents at the St Clements site shared his thoughts about what moving to the CLT home meant to him:

“I remember the day we moved in well – my whole extended family turned up. It was pouring with rain but I was beaming inside. There is so much space! I feel really lucky we get to own our own home – it has changed my family’s life.”

Laura, another resident at the East London site said:

“Everyone is so excited for me. I am excited. Without the CLT the opportunity to be able to have something that I can call home would not be possible!”

And for the London CLT, it didn’t just stop at East London. With the help of local London Citizens UK campaign groups, we have campaigned for and won land in other areas across the city.  In May this year we submitted plans for homes in Lewisham and were chosen to deliver flagship CLT homes on Transport for London sites in Shadwell and Lambeth as part of the Mayor of London’s ‘Small Sites, Small Builders’ programme.  There are also London CLT campaigns in other parts of London including Redbridge, Croydon and Lewisham.  It also worth noting that beyond the London CLT, CLTs are being developed by other groups across the city, from RUSS in Lewisham, to Start in Haringey.  Also, the government is starting to take action with ministers announcing the remaining £163m of the £300m Community Housing Fund in July 2018. Here in London, the Mayor has set a target of at least 1,000  community-led homes identified by 2021, as well as setting up a community-led housing hub to support the sector.

Whilst CLTs still only represent a very small fraction of affordable homes needed, not just in London, but right across England (there are currently 290 CLTs), what is clear is a growing appetite for communities to work together and build strong connections to deliver essential community assets such as affordable housing. We’ve seen the CLT movement grow from its rural beginnings to expand into cities such as London, Leeds, Liverpool and Bristol. And why should it stop at housing? London CLT is also campaigning with local residents and stakeholders to transform the John Denham Building, at the front of its first-ever site at St Clements in East London, into an open, accessible and truly inclusive space.  Affordable workspace is becoming increasingly hard to come by in London – there’s potential for CLTs to deliver genuinely affordable places to work

London CLT has big ambitions to deliver genuinely affordable housing permanently and to transform neighbourhoods – none of which would be possible without the support of strong, deeply connected communities.  If we’re serious about creating a London where ordinary people can live, work and develop long-lasting connections with others around them, we must focus on empowering them to influence decisions about how the places in the city are shaped, whether that’s by securing affordable homes or public spaces. By working with organisations like Citizens UK and the Advocacy Academy we can help support local communities build the knowledge, skills and confidence to make sure they have a much greater say in shaping London’s future; this is only just the beginning.