Jess Steele Thoughts: Community Housing in Hastings

The need for community housing in Hastings has never been greater. The time to do it was ‘already by now’. Luckily we’ve been getting on with it, but there’s a lot more at stake.

The Hastings Commons community land trust was the result of a series of local meetings back in 2016 asking “is gentrification happening? If so, is it a problem? If so, is there anything we can do about it?”. The answer we came up with was to bring property into community ownership and cap the rents forever at 1/3 of average local income. We now have 12 flats at Living Rents or below, but it’s very far from enough.

The White Rock area has a very high density of private rented housing, up around 80% of properties.
While we’ve been assembling the Hastings Commons, the local market has been doing what we predicted.

We knew back then that gentrification would be an issue, but we couldn’t foresee all its impacts. Serious rent rises (and loss of rentals to Airbnb and second homes) are causing a wave of displacement, leading to 1,000 households in temporary accommodation costing £5M a year, a third of the Hastings Borough Council budget. This money is topping up private landlord rents, on top of increased central government spend on housing benefit. This unsustainable pressure is leading inexorably to a ‘section 114’, the local government equivalent of declaring bankruptcy. Unlike Birmingham City Council, HBC is not ‘too big to fail’, so may well be allowed to fail which would mean we lose our local council and decisions are made about us, without us, even further away from us.

The gap between LHA and market rent was around £100 in 2015, now it’s nearly £300.  Hastings Commons rents dropped below ‘affordable’ (ie 80% of market) in 2021.

What can be done? Central government should raise the Local Housing Allowance rate to match market realities. Local government and its partners should focus on providing high-quality, long-term, affordable, homes in the town centre. In terms of actually getting these built and lived in, Hastings Commons already has a strong track record. The only thing holding us back from bringing more local buildings into use as affordable homes is access to capital.

You can help:

SPREAD THE MESSAGE to encourage others to join. The more members the CLT has the more credibility it has with funders and investors. Anyone over 16 can join with just one share for £1 and will have equal voting rights with all other members. Join here!

SPEAK UP on social media or in conversation – explain the situation facing the town, how important affordable housing is not just to those who need it but to all of us who care about the place.

INVEST TO OFFSET your own impact. Although I’m sure you are personally lovely, if you moved here since 2019 you’re part of the problem through no fault of your own. One really positive response is to invest in community-owned housing that will be affordable forever.  We have had vital investment from many CLT members in the past, most notably to allow the CLT to purchase 39 Cambridge Road and provide long term affordable housing. If you are interested in finding out more about a personal investment, large or small, please contact our Finance & Investment Lead.