2 September 2017
by Anne Fletcher, Zoe Ford, Mary de Pleave and Lyn Sands
Lots of people like the idea of building homes through community land trusts. Community land trusts are developed by people from the local community. They use a mixture of grants and loans to obtain land and develop sustainable housing which is then sold or rented to people living locally at prices which are linked to average local earnings (truly affordable housing). These are homes first and assets second – they belong to the local community in perpetuity. It may sound like a pipe dream but it can be done. More than 700 homes have already been built in Britain by community land trusts with another 3000 in the pipeline (Big Issue May 2017).
Transition Homes, a community land trust in Totnes in Devon, is a great example. It is a non-profit organization set up to deliver affordable housing and other community facilities. A group of volunteers established it in response to the need for low cost housing in the area and also concerns about the environmental impact of conventional housing development. The houses they build will be held in trust for the local community.
Their first development is for 27 one, two, three and four bedroom terraced homes. They will be built with locally sourced and sustainably managed natural materials, with renewable energy generation and a range of community resources. A remarkable 70% of the housing will be affordable (rented and shared ownership) with only eight houses being sold at market rates to make the scheme financially viable (https://www.transitiontowntotnes.org/transition-homes/).
Closer to home, there is a community land trust in Lewes which is aiming to provide 15 shared equity homes in the North Street quarter of the town (http://www.lewesclt.org/news/), and the Ditchling, Streat and Westmeston Neighbourhood Plan (in development) is proposing that its local parish council should establish and manage a community land trust with the aim of developing nine community owned units at the Park Farm Development (http://www.lewes.gov.uk).
Would a community land trust be good for Seaford?
There is a need for low cost housing in the town. Information from Lewes District Council (Affordable Needs Assessment 2013- 2018 (January 2014)) says that the demand for affordable housing outstrips supply and will continue to grow. Definitions of ‘affordability’ are complicated and vary widely but the Strategic Housing Market Assessment definitions quoted in the Lewes District Council paper say that a household is considered able to afford to buy a home if it costs up to 3.5 times the gross household income, or to afford market rented housing where the rent payable would constitute no more than 25% of gross income. Compare this with some Seaford statistics from the same report - house prices were 10.3 times income in 2011 and someone earning the minimum wage would have to spend over 54% of income to afford the cheapest one bed flat. As less than 10% of the housing stock in Seaford is social housing, it’s clear that people on low incomes struggle to rent or buy in the town and ‘affordable’ housing at 80% of market value is not going to help them.
The Seaford Neighbourhood Plan acknowledges the need for affordable housing but it’s not clear how much it will produce or how affordable it will be. The advantage of a community land trust is that it would create assets for the town in perpetuity which would ensure that there was always some housing available for people living locally linked to local earnings. There’s no pretending it would be easy – it took Totnes seven years to get from the idea to starting to build. It needs commitment from volunteers and support from the local council but if it could ensure that young people and people with families could stay in the town it could be worth it.
It would be great if the Seaford Neighbourhood Plan could play its part by saying that it would welcome proposals for a community land trust which would provide the opportunity for interested locals to take up the challenge.
For more information on community land trusts see http://www.communitylandtrusts.org.uk/funding-and-resources/resources and http://ruralsussex.wpengine.com/what-we-do/community-land-trusts/