As a child, I would look out of the window of the train from Norbury to London Victoria, wondering which of the exciting new developments (often futuristic glass tower blocks) I would eventually live in.
As years passed, I came to realise that these flats are not for people like me, and were instead reserved for the super rich, or destined to remain vacant as prudent buyers waited for a return. These weren’t homes that were being built, but investment opportunities.
Like many young Londoners, being surrounded by gentrification made me feel disillusioned and pessimistic about the future of my city. At the time, I didn’t feel that I could personally do anything to ‘solve’ the housing crisis, nor could I stop the tide of ‘regeneration’ that was spreading through my local area. It wasn’t until I discovered the growing national movement in community housing (co-ordinated by the National Community Land Trust Network), that I believed that it was possible to make a difference.
More about community land trusts and how they work
The campaign I work on was first conceived back in late 2015, when a group of young South Londoners (participants in a social change fellowship called The Advocacy Academy) decided that we wanted to start a grassroots campaign to tackle the local housing crisis. Through collaborating with Citizens UK, we met over the course of two years to get the community on board with our concept, and settled on the community land trust (CLT) as our model.
What makes this movement innovative is not how ‘modern’, ‘luxurious’ and ‘striking’ the developments are that we’re working towards, but that the campaign itself is run by a diverse group of Londoners, of different ages and professions, coming together to fight for a new model for affordable housing.
The Community Land Trust definition of ‘affordable’ is based on the average incomes of local residents, rather than 80% of market value, which is shockingly how many local authorities define ‘affordable.’ Though re-definining affordability as…well…genuinely affordable may not seem innovative, it is within the context of modern housing policy, which is sad.
The campaign goes beyond the logistics of securing sites and getting homes built; as a youth-led campaign, we strive to educate as many people as possible about the housing crisis. As a Chair for the campaign, I also work with my peers to deliver housing policy sessions for emerging cohorts of The Advocacy Academy. I have also spoken at other housing-relating events about the importance of youth participation, including the National CLT Network’s conference last October.
Rather than the final hurdle, the campaign now faces the home stretch. We have been given site by Transport for London following a competitive bidding process for a plot on Christchurch Road in Streatham, a site selected by the Chairs. This plot is essentially a blank canvas, but we now must work to maximise the land we have to build as many quality homes as we can.
The planning permission application process (from what I know about it) is complex and a little on the dry side, but I am looking forward to adding yet another learning curve to my experience on this campaign. More excitingly, now also comes the point where we can branch out further into the local community and integrate their thoughts and feelings into the campaign going forward.
This campaign is not going to single-handedly solve the housing crisis, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Being told that we had been given the site we had been campaigning for since last summer, on the anniversary of Grenfell no less, was the gratification I needed to continue with this campaign.
I can only imagine how it will feel to eventually stand in front of homes that I helped to get built. These will not only be permanently affordable homes, but a glimmer of hope for Londoners who no longer believe that affordable housing exists in their city.