Razia Khanom and Christchurch Road Community Land Trust
The battle to build affordable housing in one of London's fastest-changing boroughs
I met Razia in 2019, when I started attending meetings for Christchurch Road Community Land Trust in Brixton, South London. The group was started by young activists to build genuinely affordable, community-owned homes on a piece of derelict land opposite the one-bedroom flat where Razia currently lives with her husband and two children. In 2018, the group won a bid for the land, working with Transport for London and the Lambeth Councillor Matthew Bennett, who showed an interest in the community land trust (CLT) model, which keeps the price of housing on the land linked to what local people actually earn. Over the course of a year, I saw the group pick an architect, co-design an affordable housing scheme, and conduct meetings with Lambeth Council. Three years later, they are still waiting for Lambeth to give them planning permission to build. Meanwhile, Razia’s daughters are getting older. She fears they may soon have no choice but to move out of the borough.
Interviewed on March 3, 2019
My name is Razia, I have lived in Brixton for over a decade now, so I know that this is very much needed. That’s one of the primary reasons I got involved. Since [we got the land] we have met once a month. We had a successful vote to choose our architect. We had a surprisingly large turnout. Some of those were steering group but the vast majority of them were people from the local community. We overwhelmingly – 95 per cent – voted for the same architect so it shows that we are, most of us, for the same thing.
We know that we have local support, we know that we have political support and there’s no doubt that there’s need for this. So we’re quite eager to move forward as a steering group on behalf of ourselves and the community at large.
We just had a meeting with Councillor Bennett. I feel quite positive about the way that it’s gone. I feel like as if we’ve had a lot of support from them, they are giving directions on how to further our project, they have made it clear the challenges that we face but they have also given us vital information about how to proceed, and they seem eager to help us.
Interviewed on January 23, 2021
I remember when I came out of that meeting I was really excited. I still maintain a good degree of excitement for this project. But since then we have realised that our biggest challenge is Lambeth planning department.
There are so many blocks of flats that have gone up that I don’t have a hope or dream of affording. Meanwhile, people I know who lived in the borough are moving out. We’ve lost Louise, she was our co-chair. People were supposed to be moving in to our scheme by now and last year, shortly after the lockdown, Louise moved out, she got a new job and a new place to live. We’re losing people, vital people, in our community.
I feel quite angry. My husband was born in Clapton South, he’s never left the Brixton area, he was alive through some turbulent times, through the Brixton riots. I know times change and change is needed. But people are getting pushed out. Nour Cash and Carry are being pushed out, they’ve been there for many years. It’s quite tragic that we are losing our community.
What we are doing is community-led, we’re coming together in order to be able to deliver housing for local people who are being pushed out. I met a lady through my daughters' school: part-way through lockdown, her landlady passed away. The executor of the will started telling my friend she needed to no longer pay the rent into one account, but to pay it directly into her own account. My friend reached out to me, and I said, “You need to get a solicitor’s undertaking.” The executor responded saying, “If you don’t pay it into my account I will show you how powerful I am. You will be evicted.” My friend was petrified. She has lived there for 10 years. Now the landlady has died she is facing eviction. This is the housing insecurity we are facing.
I am so furious that yet again we have professionals in the field delivering these projects and they are so out of touch with what people need. In our community group: JP was there, Costa was there, they are the ones that approached the CLT to make this happen. I was there, I need this. We were there appealing to them, saying, "All we are asking is for your support to go through this process.” We have changed our plans to get the maximum amount of units, taking into account all the constraints. No one has seen the plans yet and still we are being told no.
For me personally, this is my last hope, if these houses aren’t built we would have to move out the borough. I am overcrowded, I cannot afford to live here. We have been renting for 15 years now and it’s made me physically unwell. It’s not something I wish to go back to. It would mean that I literally have no other option than to leave the borough and to leave London.
I went to the first steering group meeting because my husband saw a notice on our noticeboard saying that they were trying to bring affordable housing to the borough. In the eight weeks prior we had been talking about how we might need to move out the borough because we can’t afford to live here anymore. We have two girls, we have a one bedroom apartment. They were much younger then. We are fortunate in that we have a close family so even with a small amount of space, we’re not under each other’s feet. We still enjoy each other’s company. But how long is that going to last? My eldest daughter, she’s going into secondary school, she will need her own space. And we can’t provide that for her right now.
When I went to that meeting and I realised that it is genuinely affordable – it’s not the affordable houses that Housing Associations have where you still have to top up the rent, and you still have to be earning £70, £80, £90,000 per household – that’s when I got involved. And in the process I had come out of years of insecure housing, health problems that had caused a lot of mental health issues for me. This became the avenue for me to come out of that, it provided a safe space for me to discover myself again. That's why I got even more involved. I went for the board and it has become a social thing as well as meeting a need. So it’s a very personal project on so many levels for me.
I wasn’t working when I joined the steering group. I had left the social housing sector when I couldn’t work, and I did have a fantastic job, but I had my daughter and we went into a recession and I just couldn’t get a job after that. The first few interviews, when they saw I had a young child, you could even see them switching off. I was out of work for about 10 years.
After I joined the CLT as a board member I realised I had hopes and dreams for this site, and it makes housing here affordable for me, the confidence that board instilled in me pushed me back out to look for work, and I got a job in a massive global facilities management company. We are now in a position where we could buy a home at a reasonable price – but community-led housing is the only way that we can afford to do that.
In my previous job in the social housing sector I was an income officer. I’ve seen it all. I saw the housing crisis happen. I saw Lambeth selling off good housing stock, what 10, 12 years ago. I saw it in the making. And I saw the failure of the Housing Association to provide homes, because they built all these homes for private ownership and no one could afford them. The Housing Association became cash poor very quickly. Because it was a poor idea. It wasn’t working. Some of these schemes – 75 per cent of them were left unoccupied. They were having to change the contracts that they had in place and convert them to social housing, because they were just losing money.
Forty, fifty years ago, when my dad first came to the country, in the eighties, we were a single-income household, he was a manual labourer, and he was able to afford his own house. My brother lives in Luton and he was able to buy his own house. He was a manual labourer – he’s still a manual labourer, he’s a gas engineer, but given his current salary, the house that he lives in today, he would never be able to afford to buy. Our salaries have not increased in line with inflation.
And that’s why we need these properties. Because people like Costa – fantastic, young people, visionary, hard workers – they need to remain here, and it’s even harder for them. That’s one of the key things about this site, we’re looking to make it exactly what community is. Exactly like our steering group: a mix of different households, different families, young people, old people, single people – we want everyone here still.
I’m tired of waiting for Lambeth and the Greater London Authority (GLA) to move quicker. On the 29th, the GLA make the decision on the £580,000 we need to get the project rolling, and the following Tuesday we will meet to discuss the decision.
Lambeth don’t have to pay anything towards the build: the GLA will give us a grant per home, and the rest we will do ourselves through Community Share Offers. All they have to do is approve the plans and they will come off as heroes. We’re not in this for the glory, we just want to keep our community here – that’s it. We’re literally doing what they should be doing – which is building social housing that is adequate for the demand. We’re doing their job for them. So let us do it.
The Christchurch Road Community Land Trust came out of work started by young activists from the Advocacy Academy, an incredible organisation that trains young people to engage in collective action. Read Costa’s story about how this led them to housing. Community Land Trusts have plans to build 23,000 homes across the UK in the coming years, but the sector was dealt a blow in March 2020 when the Government did not extend the Community Housing Fund. The Government is now pursuing a “Right to Regenerate”, which would mean underused public land can be sold to communities or developers – a policy critics say amounts to little more than a further sell-off of public assets to those with the cash. The GLA and Lambeth Council did not respond to requests for comment.
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