Visionary Housing, a Model for the Future
Visionary Housing, a Model for the Future
Community Land Trust BXL buys land in central Brussels to build affordable residences. The houses are then sold, the land is not.
What can be done to keep home ownership in city areas affordable for people on low incomes? It’s a cogent question to which Community Land Trust BXL has found an interesting answer. The Brussels non-profit, CLT BXL for short, buys land and builds or refurbishes houses on it. Families on low incomes can thereby acquire comparatively cheap houses as they do not at the same time have to purchase the land. The latter remains in the hands of CLT BXL. “The walls are bought, not the land. That’s how our organisation keeps prices low”, says Geert De Pauw, co-founder of CLT BXL. “Anyone who has bought a house from us can sell it on, no problem. But there is a limit to the price. That’s how the houses stay affordable for the next owners, as well – without additional assistance.”
An important year
The concept of Community Land Trusts is an AngloSaxon one. Britain has seen similar housing projects for people on low and middle incomes for some time. Brussels’ CLT BXL focuses exclusively on housing for low-income families. At the moment, the organisation owns four plots of land. Negotiations for four more are ongoing. “We were able to purchase the city properties with the support of the Brussels-Capital region”, says Geert De Pauw.
2015 will be an important year for the organisation. Around summertime, the very first buyers will move into a CLT project on the Quai de Mariemont, the Brussels canal. “The families have already been selected. In June they will receive the keys.” The families to move into these houses will not all be paying the same amount. The price of a house depends on the family’s income. Because “affordable”, as Geert de Pauw points out, is a very relative concept. The maximum a family is allowed to pay off is a third of its total income. But this calculation still makes ownership possible for these families, as the CLT houses are up to 40 per cent cheaper than those on the traditional property market. The Quai de Mariemont will be followed by three more projects in Brussels, for seven, 15 and 32 families, respectively. The building or refurbishing work is to begin in a year and a half. “Building is a slow process. But in total we’re aiming at around 120 new houses by 2018”, says De Pauw.
Why are Community Land Trusts one feasible path for urban living in the future? “Because we offer a reasonable answer to rising property prices. As it is, flats and houses are simply no longer affordable for people on low incomes. In Brussels, there is an extreme shortage of social housing”, adds De Pauw. And because CLTs make it impossible to use housing for speculation, which is sometimes a problem also in the field of social housing. If social residences are profitably sold on to people on a higher income, these houses totally miss their target audience. The land trust puts a bar to such price hikes because the profit from the resale goes back to the association, not to an investor looking for returns. Geert de Pauw is convinced that this is the right approach: “Separating land ownership from housing ownership corresponds to the spirit of the time. We have less and less residential spaces, in the cities in any case. We need to think in depth about what we want to do with this space. In traditional projects for residential property owners, the project developer is at the centre. In CLT projects, in contrast, it is the owners who play the main part.” The owners of CLT houses are also members of the CLT association. Even before they move into their houses, they are very closely involved. Together with their future neighbours they decide on the plans for their houses.
Of course CLT projects cost a lot of money. Considerable amounts of resources are needed just to buy up plots of land or uninhabited buildings. “Fortunately we have the support of the Brussels-Capital region”, enthuses De Pauw. The public administration subsidises the housing projects. In the meantime, CLT has also received official recognition as a social housing scheme. Financial and legal steps of this kind are essential for realising these housing projects. De Pauw recognises the significance of the public support: “Without political will, nothing would have come out of this. Now low-income families can also afford to own their homes. And in the middle of the city, too!”