Housing

These south London homes are designed by the community and will always be affordable

It's harder than ever to get a home in London. But on the site of an old garage, an alternative is emerging

london housing

Jordan, one of the new Citizens House residents, gets his key. Image: Yannis Katsaris/London CLT

Where an old garage used to sit in south London, there are now 11 homes with a difference. Designed by their residents, the properties are billed as “permanently affordable”.

The culmination of 10 years of campaigning, and costing £2.5m to build, London Citizens House opened this week, giving families with a connection to Lewisham the opportunity to stay in a city often pushing locals out.

The homes aren’t just a way for one lucky generation to turn a profit, either. When they move out, they must sell the properties at prices linked to local incomes.

Homes are priced at around two thirds of the market price, meaning a one bedroom property costs £215,000 and a two bedroom costs £272,500.

London Housing
Citizens House as it sits in its south London neighbourhood. Image: French Tye/London CLT

Kes Gill-Martin, a new resident at Citizens House, said the experience had shown what was possible.

“Moving into the CLT has been completely transformative. Knowing that I’m part of a community, that I’m buying into something bigger than myself, rather than paying a landlord’s mortgage, is great,” Gill-Martin said.

“It’s also changed the way me and my partner have been able to think about our future, our lives. We’ve never had such stability to rely on, to depend on, to have as a basis for our plans and dreams.”

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The homes are a result of residents coming together to form Lewisham Citizens, and eventually working with London Community Land Trust (CLT).

Funding came from Big Issue Invest, the social investment arm of the Big Issue, as well as the Mayor of London’s community housing fund, and community shareholders in the CLT.

Residents were involved along the designing process, giving input on what they wanted the building to be like. Interaction was a big priority, and so staggered balconies give space for those in different flats to chat to each other.

london housing
Residents have a chat across the staggered balconies. Image: French Tye/London CLT

The situation for anybody looking to secure a long term home in London – or anywhere else, for that matter – is worsening.

More than 200,000 of England’s most affordable social homes have disappeared in the past 10 years, while according to Zoopla the number of properties available to rent since the pandemic has decreased by a third. Meanwhile, house prices hit record levels in 2022.

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Alternatives are springing up, however. In Hastings, a group of residents have been busy raising money and buying empty buildings to turn them into affordable homes.

There is more to come. Including the homes in Lewisham, London CLT has built 34 homes to date and has more than 150 in development. 

Nationally, there is even more scope. At least 278,000 community led homes could be built across the country, according to a report by the Community Land Trust Network.

london housing
Campaigners hand the planning application to Lewisham’s mayor in 2018. Image: London CLT

​​Even government ministers are in favour of it. Levelling up and housing secretary Michael Gove has waxed lyrical about the potential.

“What could be a better example than a neighbourhood taking control, then being in charge of its destiny and making sure that the homes in which people live have the heart and soul of that community embedded in the bricks and mortar,” he asked. 

“That’s why I’m a supporter of CLTs.”

In Lewisham, teacher Emma Evangelista is 33 and has lived in her family home since she was born. Despite saving, she grew to believe she’d never be able to afford to buy in her community, and resigned herself to wasting her savings on renting or to moving away.

“In 2022 when I stumbled upon the Citizens House CLT I almost didn’t apply as it seemed too good to be true, but I’m so thankful that I did,” she said.

“One year later and I have just moved into my dream apartment, a short walk from both my job and my family home. It’s warm, modern energy efficient and getting to know my neighbours before moving in has been an added bonus.”

The Big Issue’s #BigFutures campaign is calling for investment in decent and affordable housing, ending the low wage economy, and millions of green jobs. The last 10 years of austerity and cuts to public services have failed to deliver better living standards for people in this country. Sign the open letter and demand a better future.

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