Building of affordable homes is at a 24 year low: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-38015368
In rural areas the situation is even more difficult – housing associations are under more pressure than ever before with cuts in grants and rents and growing demand, particularly in rural areas where wages are low and few affordable homes are available. Susannah Richter talked to two rural housing associations about the challenges they face.
English Rural Housing Association tenants enjoying their homes
Hastoe and English Rural Housing Association (ERHA) are leading campaigners in rural housing. They are passionate about providing more affordable homes in villages to keep communities alive and vibrant. Both lobbied intensively to make the right to buy voluntary for housing associations (HAs) and have vowed never to sell off their village homes.
This is because it is so difficult to replace those homes and demand is growing. Only 8% of rural homes are considered affordable and incomes are far lower (average £19,700 compared with £26,900 urban). Open market house prices are 22% higher in villages than towns.
It’s a lengthy and expensive process to get rural homes built. Often the developments are small and they are almost solely on exception sites (areas outside village parameters which would not normally be granted planning permission and are therefore much cheaper than development land). The HAs work closely with parish councils, local authorities, rural housing enablers and communities to ensure the housing mix is right for the village.
Hastoe lobbied successfully on the Housing and Planning Bill to ensure starter homes would be exempted from exception sites so they remain a way for HAs to get rented homes built. “Usually there is a real sense of pride from the landowner that they are able to help and leave a legacy for their communities,” said Hastoe’s Chief Executive Sue Chalkley.
HAs used to receive a grant of up to £60,000 for every affordable rented home built. Last year that was cut to around £12,000 and this year to £0 for rented homes. Meanwhile, the Government has dictated rent cuts of 1% per year for the next five years. Both HAs have had to reduce their building programme. At its peak (2012) Hastoe was building 550 homes a year, now just 50-100. ERHA was building 70 a year and that has been cut to 30. Yet the demand in Kent is 200+ per year.
“This makes me really sad. So many people are working hard but on a low wage and desperately need homes for rent. They cannot aspire to buy a home but they want and need to live in their communities,” said Sue Chalkley.
Alison Thompson, Senior Regional Housing Manager at ERHA, explained that they now have to include some open market properties in developments to cross subsidise the costs. “It’s not all doom and gloom though and has in fact presented opportunities,” she said. “We are meeting a new need and have built small bungalows for older people wanting to downsize but stay in their village. Plus, we are being innovative – we are offering some self-build plots which reduces the risk to us and again meets a need and we prioritise selling them to local people.”
Affordable homes are vital for communities to thrive. Without them, families will move to cheaper properties in towns and then the lack of demand within the village can lead to the closure of schools, village shops, pubs. As it is, the number of people aged 30-44 fell 9% over the last decade, many moving to towns after being priced out of their communities.
Sue Chalkley: “I can’t see how villages will survive. Local employers won’t be able to find employees, the facilities will have gone and there will just be affluent older people driving out of the village.”
One example of the need for younger people was in Charing where the fire station was under threat of closure as there was a shortage of retained firefighters. When ERHA built a development, one of the first tenants was a young man who became a retained firefighter, demonstrating just how much impact affordable homes can have.
“We need a mixed community to keep our villages alive,” said Alison Thompson. “Our homes really are a lifeline. Some people have been living in cramped conditions, with parents or in mobile homes, and are desperate for their own home in the area they grew up in or work. One new tenant said she felt like she’d won the lottery the day we handed her the keys.”
To be eligible for a HA home, people need to have a strong connection to the village and be on a relatively low income (in most cases less than £30,000 a year). They then get an affordable rent (80% of market value) and, vitally, security of tenure.
Despite initiatives like the right to buy, shared ownership and starter homes, many people will never be able to afford their homes. Here in Kent our housing associations are safeguarding their stock to ensure it is available for future generations. This will allow people, particularly young families, to live and thrive in their village communities and, we hope, maintain vibrant, active and working villages with a mixture of age groups and income earners.
November 18th 2016