Can Community Land Trusts Provide a Solution to the UK’s Affordable Housing Crisis?

March 20, 2024

Over the past decade, the UK has seen an alarming rise in the number of people unable to afford their own homes. The issue of unaffordable housing has led to burgeoning homelessness and a generation of renters who cannot plan for a future in their own property. In the midst of this crisis, Community Land Trusts (CLTs) promise a hopeful solution. Let’s delve into how CLTs function, their potential benefits, and the challenges they face, keeping London as our focal point, as it represents the epicentre of the housing crisis in the UK.

The Concept of CLTs

To understand how CLTs might offer an alternative, we first need to grasp what they are and how they function. In essence, a CLT is a non-profit, community-led organisation that takes ownership of land to provide affordable homes for local people. Often established by volunteers, these trusts retain the land permanently and lease it to homeowners for a specified period of time.

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Trusts can acquire land through donations, purchases or as part of planning agreements with developers. They manage and develop this land to create affordable housing, using innovative planning and development techniques to maximise the social benefits.

The pricing of homes in a CLT is dictated by what is ‘affordable’ for the local community rather than the open market. When properties are sold, they remain within the affordable price bracket, ensuring that housing remains accessible for future generations.

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The Potential of CLTs in London

As the capital and one of the most expensive cities in the world, London’s housing crisis is particularly severe. Overcrowding, homelessness and high rental costs are problematic. In this context, CLTs can offer a significant solution.

CLTs can help maintain the social fabric of London communities by ensuring affordable housing is available to local residents, avoiding the displacement of communities due to high property prices.

Furthermore, being community-led, CLTs can ensure developments are planned with the needs and desires of local people in mind. This offers a stark contrast to traditional property developments, which are often perceived as prioritising profit over community needs.

East London CLT is a prime example of this potential. It has successfully created genuinely affordable homes in the borough of Tower Hamlets, one of the most deprived areas in the country.

Challenges Faced by CLTs

Despite their potential, CLTs face a number of challenges. The main obstacle is securing land in the first place. Property developers with deep pockets often outbid CLTs, and landowners may prefer to sell to the highest bidder.

Another challenge is securing the necessary funding. While trusts can receive funding from a variety of sources including grants, loans, and community shares, raising enough money to purchase land and construct properties is often difficult.

Moreover, the community-led nature of trusts can also pose challenges. Volunteer burnout, sourcing professional expertise, and dealing with complex planning regulations can be difficult for communities to navigate.

How CLTs can be Supported

To facilitate the development of CLTs, there needs to be a supportive policy environment. Local authorities should recognise the value of CLTs and offer them support in the planning process.

Providing CLTs with access to affordable land is key. This could be achieved through the ‘first right of refusal’ for public land, or planning policies which require developers to offer a proportion of land to CLTs.

Funding is another crucial area. While there are already loan and grant schemes available, these could be expanded and made more accessible.

In a Nutshell

In facing the UK’s affordable housing crisis, community-led initiatives like CLTs offer a ray of hope. By putting local people at the heart of housing, they have the potential to create sustainable, inclusive communities where everyone has a place to call home. But to truly realise this potential, they will need more than goodwill – they need the backing of policy, funding, and a fair shot at securing land.

The Growth of the CLT Movement in the UK

The growth of the CLT movement in the UK has been significant, illustrating the potential role these trusts could play in solving the affordable housing crisis. While they initially thrived in rural areas, their presence is increasingly prominent in urban regions, such as London.

The National Community Land Trust Network reports over 300 CLTs operating across England and Wales. These trusts have already built over 800 homes and plan to construct thousands more. Their work ranges from providing affordable homes to revitalising local economies through commercial spaces.

The East London CLT is an inspirational example. Despite numerous challenges, it built 23 affordable homes in the Mile End region of the borough of Tower Hamlets. These homes were sold to local people at 25% of the market rate, ensuring that they remain affordable in the long term.

These successes clearly demonstrate the potential for CLTs to provide a solution to the affordable housing crisis. However, they also highlight the importance of supportive policies and resources in making these victories possible.

The Role of Housing Associations and Other Partnerships

Housing associations and other organisations can play a pivotal role in supporting the CLT movement. They can provide expertise, financial support and can often help to leverage additional resources.

Several housing associations have already formed successful partnerships with CLTs. For example, London CLT partnered with the housing association Peabody to develop the Brasted Close site in Lewisham, creating genuinely affordable homes for the local community.

Such partnerships can help overcome some of the challenges faced by CLTs. By combining the strengths of community-led initiatives with the resources and expertise of established organisations, they can create a more robust approach to providing affordable homes.

In addition, local authorities can also play a key role in supporting CLTs. They can offer planning support, provide land at a discounted rate, or offer financial backing.

Conclusion – The Future of CLTs in the UK’s Housing Landscape

In conclusion, Community Land Trusts (CLTs) could play a significant role in addressing the UK’s affordable housing crisis. Their potential lies in their community-led approach, which ensures that housing developments meet the needs of local residents and remain affordable in the long term.

However, for CLTs to become a viable mainstream solution, they need more than community enthusiasm. They require a supportive policy environment, access to affordable land, and financial resources.

Partnerships with housing associations and local authorities could provide a means to overcome some of the challenges faced by CLTs. By combining the strengths of different sectors, we can create a more inclusive and sustainable approach to housing in the UK.

As the cost of living continues to rise, and the need for affordable housing becomes more pressing, the importance of innovative solutions like CLTs cannot be overstated. The UK’s housing landscape is in need of change, and CLTs offer a promising path towards a more equitable future.