It’s Time for a Housing Disruption

Written for the 145th edition of Friends of the Earth’s Chain Reaction magazine.

We can’t sit by and allow profit seeking developers to determine the essence of our lives. Crummy homes suffering from poor design are a by-product of rampant land prices curtailing architectural dreams.

Community Land Trusts (CLTs) have been discussed in the Australian context for close to twenty years. However, we still don’t have one in operation.

This led to the formation of Grounded Community Land Trust Advocacy. As a small NGO, we are driven to make for-purpose housing a force to be reckoned with.

Alternative housing models must become a core component of a progressive society.

CLT’s remove land from the speculative market by placing a legal covenant on the land and housing’s resale value. A CLT may limit the resale value of a home to 60% of the median price in the suburb. Or it may use a formula where it limits housing costs to 30% of the median income for the bottom 40% of income earners in that region. This is known as the 3040 rule.

Long term affordability is the central aim of the Trust, with both legal and economic protections put in place. The land is managed by an independent board that is composed of ⅓ residents, ⅓ neighbours and ⅓ civic minded individuals. The board holds the land in trust to ensure it is perpetually affordable for residents and maintained as an important community resource.

Residents sign a contract accepting this arrangement, in effect agreeing that the trust will give them access to this land in acceptance that little financial return will occur for this ownership.

Deposits required to get into a CLT home can be up to 70% lower. This can help renters find security of tenure up to a decade earlier than on the open market. By ensuring an affordability lock is placed on the land and housing, this grounds pricing growth to the reality of our wages.

In doing this, we place a shield over housing, recognising it as a place of shelter – as a human (rather than speculative) right.

Grounded is advocating to improve the right for community led housing. There must be an alternative to market-led cookie cutter homes. We have no statutory definition of CLTs anywhere in the country. This means government hasn’t provided a legislative definition of the concept. Banks are therefore less likely to lend to a housing model more popular in permaculture circles than on the pages of the AFR.

Building confidence in the banking sector is a major objective. With Bank Australia joining the Global Alliance for Banking on Values, the move towards ethical banking is growing. They have lent to the ACT’s Land Rent Scheme – a public land trust, so a precedent exists.

At the Federal level, a number of tax incentives have been established to support Environmental Land Trusts. We need similar reforms in place for community owned trusts in either the residential or affordable farmland sectors too.

CLTs; history and why they’re important

The history of Community Land Trusts is compelling. They have been in operation since the early 1970’s in the US, with examples going back to the early 1900s under land rent colonies.

In 1973, landless African American farmers understood that the battle against segregation in the deep south meant little if one couldn’t afford a roof over their head or land upon which to stand. This led to the world’s first CLT – New Communities, Inc Farm, established by Slater King, Charles Sherrod and Dr Bob Swann. Unfortunately, their tenure was challenged with racist impediments relentlessly thrown at these pioneers. From building delays to watered down fertiliser, they fought a valiant battle that was finally recognised in a multi-million dollar payout decades later.

Now with over 50 years of CLT history, the data is revealing. Community-led housing leads to better outcomes – just like it does in health, education and many other core components of life. Many CLTs incorporate financial planning into their community ethos, helping residents plan for unexpected events. During the GFC, US foreclosure rates were 82% lower in CLTs than in the mainstream market.

Over in the UK, the health, well being and income distribution positives are such that for every $1 invested in CLTs, there is a $3.1 return over 30 years. This is virtually unheard of in housing. Policies such as the Albanese government’s Help to Buy policy and the wretched Regional First Home Buyers grant both act to inflate land values.

With less spent on land by a CLT resident, the homeowner can afford to invest more in resilient buildings. UK CLTs have been estimated to reduce CO2 emissions by 15-50%. US CLTs in places like Florida are being built to be hurricane resistant, and in Alamedia, a bushfire retardant bunker is incorporated into the design.

We look forward to a future where we can incorporate permaculture design into housing developments so that our entire living envelope can be more resilient to the climate shift we are witnessing. Underpinning this is a need to recycle the ever increasing value of location, location, so that it helps to make our communities stronger – rather than falling prey as a gentrification target.

Without stable and secure housing, there is no freedom, no matter who we vote for. We need more than democracy, we need an economic democracy where we all share from the rising value of living in effective communities.

Karl Fitzgerald is the Managing Director of Grounded CLT Advocacy. He ran the Renegade Economists podcast on 3CR for 13 years, whilst working at Prosper Australia as Research Director. It was there that he developed tools to reveal the hidden housing supply property speculators and land bankers use to manipulate supply so it never trickled down.

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