With London firmly in the grip of a severe housing crisis, priced-out locals are taking on commercial developers to address the chronic lack of genuinely affordable housing in the capital.
The well-publicised housing crisis taking hold across the UK is no more sharply in focus than on the streets of the capital. Ever-increasing house prices and rents show no signs of slowing, further widening the gap between local incomes and housing costs, plunging increasing numbers of people into an unstable and uncertain future.
Many have taken to those streets in protest against the conditions that have led to the housing crisis, calling for urgent action. But the movement for change is about more than just protest as among them are ever-more groups of dissatisfied and determined local people taking matters into their own hands to make a difference to their communities. Dedicating an incredible amount of time, skill and effort they’re coming together to plan, manage and deliver truly affordable community-led housing solutions themselves, in a variety of ingenious and pioneering ways.
Among those leading the way are London Community Land Trust who, working alongside a major property developer, have transformed St Clement’s Hospital in Mile End into truly affordable homes which recently went up for sale. In Tower Hamlets, one of London’s poorest boroughs, property prices are at a record average of more than £500,000. The Trust have developed a groundbreaking way to develop and offer housing to those in the community at a third of the market value, linked to local earnings, allowing them to offer a one-bedroom flat for just £130k, in contrast to the £450k market value.
The CLT’s guiding principle is that if someone earns the average income for the area of £30k per year, they should be able to afford a one-bedroom flat. Making the venture sustainable into the future, the homes will be kept permanently affordable, with property values always linked to median wages in the area, not market rates.
Elsewhere in London, Brixton Green, a non-profit community benefit society driven by a group of hugely spirited resident volunteers, have, through many years of persistent lobbying, been granted permission by Lambeth Council for the development of 304 new homes on Somerleyton Road, all for low-cost rent with a local lettings policy proposed. It is planned that 40 per cent of homes will be at low-cost rent at council levels, 50 per cent will be affordable homes as defined by the government, and at least 60 homes will be part of an extra care scheme for older people.
The development process will be informed by direct consultation with the community and follows seven years of tireless work to raise the profile of the project and encourage local involvement, with fantastic results. The society can now call on a membership group more than 1200 people strong and a core team working hard on a voluntary basis to bring the vision to life.
Rather than a private developer delivering the project, Brixton Green encouraged Lambeth Council to develop the site themselves. Lambeth Council is sourcing funding and will own the freehold, with costs to be repaid by rents. Brixton Green’s ambition now is to lease the whole development to a new, overarching community housing cooperative. The objectives for this body are being developed from the community feedback sought through a series of engagement events and workshops. Construction is due to start this year with completion of the homes during 2017–18.
Meanwhile, in Haringey, the old St Ann’s hospital site is due to be sold for private housing with just 14% classed as affordable. As a result, St Ann’s Redevelopment Trust (StART) was created, a group of Haringey residents and workers who want the site to be used for the good of the community.
The group is bidding in competition with commercial developers to take on the site to provide a far higher level of genuinely affordable homes as well as other facilities that will directly lead to the benefit, health and wellbeing of the community. StArt has overwhelming support for the project, and while they are at the planning stage, the group are calling for support from anyone who would like to get involved.