How citizens are seeking to solve the housing crisis from the bottom up

St Clements Campaign - Credit - Citizens UK 620
Citizens UK campaign for affordable homes through community land ownership. Photograph: Citizens UK

Tower Hamlets is the fastest growing London borough, yet is already very densely populated, with 250,000 people living in just eight square miles. No wonder then that the borough is proving to be fertile ground for innovative ideas about how to house the growing number of heads.

Community land trusts

Earlier this year 23 ‘community land trust’ homes in Mile End came on sale for about a third of the market rate. Popular in the US, a Community Land Trust is the name for a model that builds and sells homes at an affordable price that is directly linked to local average income.

Now London Community Land Trust (LCLT) is set to deliver the first urban community land trust in the UK, on the grounds of the former St Clement’s workhouse and hospital in Mile End. The 23 homes are the first of their kind in London and designed for those who will never be able to afford to buy their own property in the capital, but are ineligible for social housing.

Calum Green, Communities and Campaigns Director at LCLT, says he hopes schemes like these would avoid people being priced out of where they grew up.

The properties are among 252 homes being built on the former St Clement’s workhouse and hospital site, delivered in partnership with Linden Homes. The housing is 35 per cent ‘affordable’, with 58 socially-rented homes and 23 community land trust homes. The rest are for sale at market rate.

Coming up with answers

LCLT was born out of a initiative by community organisers Citizens UK, but now operates independently. It is a non-profit organisation that anyone can join.

“We had been waiting for government or private developers to come up with the answers but we came up with answers ourselves,” says Green.

The LCLT team’s original campaign was to deliver land trust homes at the East Wick and Sweetwater neighborhoods in the Olympic Park. “Unfortunately we were unsuccessful”, explains Green, “they wanted us to pilot the scheme first before allowing us to deliver it in the Olympic Park.”

“It’s very difficult – the housing sector generally is anti-risk, which stops innovative schemes coming forward. But we need more of a bottom up approach, to deliver something for people whose needs are not being met.”

The homes are still being built but applications to live in one have closed. In the eligibility test, applicants had to give evidence of “five years of demonstrable connection to Tower Hamlets,” explains Green. A one bed property costs £130,000, a two bed £182,000 and a three bed £235,000.

Should residents want to later move away, they are contractually bound to sell on their home also at a price related to local earnings at that time. “Hopefully we’ve shown that this type of development can work in London,” says Green.

Still, Linden Homes is marketing the homes for sale to ‘investors’, a reminder of what schemes like community land trusts are up against in London.

St Clements former workhouse and hospital in Mile End. Photograph: London Community Land Trust
St Clements former workhouse and hospital in Mile End. Photograph: London Community Land Trust

East Shoreditch Forum

While the land trust’s scheme targets specifically those on middle income who are “slipping through the net”, as Green puts it, East Shoreditch Forum is devising an entire Neighbourhood Plan. The forum was set up by Chance Street resident Rebecca Collings, in response to “intense development pressure”.

“The minute there’s a spare square of land round here someone wants to put 25 storeys on it or luxury flats,” she says. “But it’s all at the expense of the local community. People get priced out of the neighbourhood. If you can afford a croissant at £2.50 then good for you. If not, you are excluded, which enhances the problem of cultural separation.

“The gentrification process is inevitable but you must take community with you, otherwise it’s a recipe for social unrest.”

The only way to get the community more in control of what was going on around it was to start a neighbourhood plan, Collings decided.

In 2011, the Localism Act introduced the right for communities (forums) to help shape development in their area through the production of Neighbourhood Development Plans. The policies put forward can eventually form part of a Local Plan, helping to determine planning applications and shape developments.

After an arduous process of agreeing the neighbourhood boundary with the councils of Tower Hamlets and Hackney, Collings rallied neighbours to put forward ideas for their area.

“Residents of a neighbourhood know more about it than any professional. They’re dealing with dog fouling, anti-social behaviour – all the things that make a neighbourhood good or bad to live in – every day.”

Supporting the forum

Councillor Rachel Blake, Cabinet Member for Strategic Development at Tower Hamlets Council, has helped support ESF through the process. Asking residents where to build houses is a good example of how a neighbourhood plan can work, says Blake.

“Tower Hamlets is already quite a developed, densely populated borough,” says Blake. “We have 20,000 households on the waiting list who are in desperate need of new affordable homes.”

The East Shoreditch residents suggested some of the bollards be removed to make it easier for cyclists. “Only residents would have been able to come up with that,” Blake points out.

“So it’s important we make the most of their knowledge and understanding of area, rather than just imposing ideas on them, as some developers or housing associations can do.”

The role of the council in this is to support the Neighbourhood Forum. The council approves the forum, and then the area which they want to plan. It supports the forum through the process, for example by advising on planning legislation and helping develop ideas.

Cllr Blake hopes the community-led planning will set a “positive example” to housing associations which are seeking to build new homes.

“By working from the ‘bottom up’ – encouraging meaningful and significant engagement from the very start of the process – proposals from Housing Associations are more likely to go down well with residents.

“And it means developers are less likely to face opposition to their plans and residents feel they have some agency in shaping their area.”

Linden Homes - St Clements credit linden homes 620
Community Land Trust Homes. Image: Linden Homes

1 Comment

  1. Muhammad Haque on Wednesday 8 June 2016 at 12:50 am

    0050 GMT London Wednesday 08 June 2016

    Your starting sentence is alarming untrue.

    “Tower Hamlets is the fastest growing London borough…”

    Not true.
    The Evidence shows that untruth every day.

    The Truth is that Tower Hamlets is being Socially Cleansed and Degenerated.
    The Truth is that Tower Hamlets is being deliberately degenerated via the locally “elected” Tower Hamlets Council.

    For strictly legal process reasons, the identifies of the victims featured in this REJOINDER Commentary have been appropriately
    adjusted but without deviating, departing from the essential factual bases of the assertions I make here (below)

    I have maintained the integrity of the evidence and have
    substantiated the assertions that the evidence support on
    how Tower Hamlets Council has been proactively degenerating the East End

    Here is the summary of what three ten-year olds have gone through in the past ten years:

    1. Their family life has been destroyed by Council employees who are in paid posts supposedly to help the ‘vulnerable’.
    2. The three ten-year olds were not in a vulnerable family but their family has been targeted by Tower Hamlets Council which has operated on the unconcealed agenda TO MAKE the family vulnerable.
    3. At least ten Tower Hamlets Councillors have been closely aware of what has been going on but none of them has spoken out nor has done what they should have done to uphold the rights
    of the victims of the Council’s Degeneration and Social Cleansing.

    The main person whose image is the most prominent in your picture denied to me in 2013 that Tower Hamlets Council was letting the Community down and that the executive mayor system was
    a seriously degenerating, antidemocratic imposition.

    The man had played a serious part in the propaganda for the
    YES for a Mayor “campaign in 2009-2010”.

    Why has he been staying silent on his role, especially in light of the very serious questions that have become outstanding in the past three years?

    He cannot be posing as an “enabler” of Citizens’ Say when the Truth is that he has played his part in denying the ordinary Community the Democratic Say against the multifarious corruption and abuse done by Tower Hamlets Council.

    And the multifarious corruption and abuse epitomised by Tower Hamlets as the “locally elected Democratic entity”.

    I am INVITING him to say why did he surface in 2009-2010 in Tower Hamlets and why he had no really compatible profile in the media unlike the profile he got when promoting the “YES” propaganda.

    How many families’ victimisation, denials and exploitation has the person taken up and stood up against Tower Hamlets Council on behalf of ?

    And when?
    Why is he detached from the main issues of the Community
    concerning the antidemocratic local Council?

    As for “Cllr” Rachel Blake, what Empire has she descended on Tower Hamlets from?

    She has been “silent” to my detailed Questions, which I sent to her with exceedingly kind considerations of her “importance”.

    That was after she had been reported as making unjustifiable claims on the Left Foot Forward.

    I am “inviting” her to answer those questions before
    parading herself as the matronising source of the platitudinous quotes that you let her make.

    What is her excuse for the thousands being on housing waiting list?

    She does not say “housing waiting list”.
    She says “affordable…”

    That word, “affordable” is a neo-marketeering
    term which has been foisted by Social Cleansers.

    Rachel Blake cannot claim she is against Social Cleansing.
    She has not claimed to be so, “so far”. So she must not even imply that she is against Social Cleansing.
    The “Community Land Trust” is another bourgeois and careeristic vehicle that has been overused already by identifiable
    self-servers who have been colluding with the massive
    Social Cleansing Agenda being operated by Tower Hamlets Council affecting thousands of people; individuals, families and groups.

    Why isn’t Rachel Blake talking against the Council Housing Stick Transfer as a whole, instead of tactically making peripheral reference to suit her alleged concern for her electoral Council “constituency”?


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