Community land trusts: ‘It’s people-powered housing’

None of the political parties have all the answers to Britain’s chronic housing problems. But community land trusts are taking on large developers and reshaping the market

Home ownership stands at a 30-year low, and with almost half of young adults now renting privately the idea of getting a first foot on the property ladder remains a frustratingly distant dream for far too many.

Leeds, like many cities in the UK, is struggling with affordability problems. Renters in decent jobs in the city are unable to save enough for deposits, while a long-term squeeze in social housing means there are few genuinely low-cost homes on offer.

Instead of waiting for Her Majesty’s next government or the big developers to ease the crisis, one small community group has decided to get their hands dirty and ensure there are more affordable homes in the city.

A growing number of CLTs are loosening the grip large developers have on house-building

Leeds Community Homes is one of a growing number of community land trusts (CLTs) attempting to loosen the grip a tiny number of large developers have on house-building. “We want to create people-powered housing,” says founding member Rob Greenland. “We have a long-term vision of creating 1000 affordable homes in the city.”

Earlier this month, The Big Issue reported on the completion of London Community Land Trust, a ground-breaking CLT project, which obtained 23 new homes on the site of a redeveloped psychiatric hospital and sold them at roughly one third of market value – a feat made possible through the game-changing idea of linking house prices to local earnings.

Leeds Community Homes has raised £360,000 through a community share offer, and has now forged a deal to build its first 16 flats in the city centre. While nine will be made available for discounted rent, seven will be sold at 60 per cent of market prices, in line with what members believe the city’s would-be first-time buyers can afford.

“No government will have all the answers to the housing shortage and affordability problems,” says Greenland. “And waiting for the developers alone to deliver enough and solve the crisis would be naïve. A lot of people don’t like what developers build anyway. It may seem small-scale at the moment but we’re excited about what CLTs can do to help reshape the market.”

There are now 225 CLTs across the country. If a CLT can obtain land or secure a long-term lease on a developer’s site, it can dictate the terms of the rent or insist on sale conditions. Like the London CLT, Leeds Community Homes will insist on permanent affordability for its homes on the south bank of the River Aire. It means any homes sold on later by residents will have their price set by the CLT to ensure other local people can still afford to buy.

Leeds is not unfamiliar with radical, community-led housing ideas. The Lilac co-operative (Low Impact Living Affordable Community), a small group also involved in Leeds Community Homes, built 20 homes in the Bramley area (pictured) after buying land from the council. The residents there enjoy communal facilities (decked terraces, gardens, a laundry room and kitchens) and buy shares in a small mutual company.

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Labour has promised 100,000 council (and housing association) properties a year. The Tories, meanwhile, have pledged to make land purchase easier for local authorities to build. But experts are sober about the amount of homes councils will realistically be able to build in the years ahead.

Councils themselves are keen to help CLTs and other innovative co-housing projects play a bigger role. In Bristol, where the local CLT has built its first 12 homes, the Labour councillor Paul Smith has spoken about CLTs fulfilling the role council housing once did: “Community-led housing might traditionally be seen as a middle-class, middle-aged solution but we’re now getting a lot of demand from working-class areas for this kind of approach too.”

If the nation needs more homes, it needs new ways of getting them built. If there was once a danger CLTs would be left wilting in an obscure corner of the market, there is growing optimism they are about to have their day in the sunshine.