We keep hearing about the housing crisis but much of the focus has been on lack of affordable housing in urban areas. However, finding an affordable home in rural communities is at least as acute a problem, with housing costing about 11 times the average salary.
Increasing affordable rural housing
In other words, the average rural worker would need a wage rise of around 150% just to be able to buy a home1.
Compounding the price problem, the supply of affordable housing (housing aimed at those who cannot access open market housing) has not kept pace with need. In 2006, it was estimated that more than 30,0002 affordable homes needed building in rural areas each year to meet need. However, since then, that average has been around 8,0003, creating huge pressure on rural housing markets.
This undersupply of affordable homes fuels some of the main issues facing rural communities. The closure of rural services (such as post offices and pubs) and the skewed population structure, due to falling numbers of young people, is strongly linked to the ability of people to be able afford a home. There is no doubt that the issue of the affordable housing in rural communities needs more political attention.
With this in mind, CPRE and Hastoe Housing Association, the leading rural affordable housing provider, last week hosted an event in Houses of Parliament to highlight the scale of the housing problems facing rural communities. While many might assume Hastoe and CPRE are on opposite sides of the housing debate, both organisations are committed to enhancing the future of the countryside. Both organisations agree that it is essential to increase the supply of new affordable housing in rural locations, and that it is vital for these new homes to be appropriately located, supported by local people, designed to reflect the character of existing communities and to have high energy efficiency standards.
The event boasted three key speakers: Emma Reynolds, Labour MP shadow housing minister; Natalie Bennett, the leader of the Green Party; and Neil Parish, Conservative MP for Tiverton and Honiton. They were asked to speak in response to the findings of a YouGov survey, funded by Hastoe and commissioned for the event, on the public perceptions of housing problems facing rural communities. The survey found that around 60% of rural respondents identified lack of affordable housing as a key problem for their community, and there was strong support for an increase in the delivery of new affordable housing in rural areas. However, respondents had little faith in politicians to deliver constructive change, with just 4% thinking that the general election will have a positive effect on people living in rural communities and two-thirds of respondents that politicians are apathetic towards the issue of providing more affordable homes.
From left to right: Neil Parish MP, Emma Reynolds MP, Sue Chalkley (Hastoe), Natalie Bennett and Shaun Spiers (CPRE)
Encouragingly, all of the event speakers agreed that the undersupply of affordable housing was a significant problem for rural communities and new policy options needed to be considered to increase the supply. This might give hope to those surveyed by YouGov, who saw increasing public funding to housing associations and greater community engagement as central to increasing the delivery of affordable housing. From CPRE’s perspective, we feel that in the run-up to the election, political parties need consider three realistic policy options that can increase the supply of affordable housing in rural areas:
- Repeal recent changes to affordable housing site size thresholds in rural areas. It is clear that not requiring any kind of affordable housing provision on sites of 10 units or less has the potential to lead to lower levels affordable housing provision in rural areas. It is essential that the Government allow rural local authorities to set their own thresholds for affordable housing provision to maximise the delivery of affordable housing where it is most needed.
- Increase support for specialist rural affordable housing providers. Many of the housing associations that provide rural affordable housing are small-scale specialist organisations that have been hit hard by both funding cuts and welfare reform. Political parties must consider how they can better support these organisations be it through increasing funding to them, or facilitating the ability of smaller organisations to work together to access alternative funding streams, such as bond financing, without jeopardising their independence.
- Support frameworks for better community engagement in rural planning. The findings of the YouGov survey found that the public have a strong appetite to involve themselves in the planning process when it comes to providing affordable housing in their communities. Central and local Government have the opportunity to clarify and publish better guidance on how interested communities can come together to produce neighbourhood plans. Recently published CPRE research has identified that best practice neighbourhood plans can encourage affordable housing delivery and help overcome key barriers that might prevent this housing from being built.
These options should not be seen as silver bullet to solving the rural affordable housing crisis. However, they will make it easier for specialist rural affordable housing providers like Hastoe to continue building excellent affordable housing schemes that meet the needs of, and are supported by, rural communities, such as the Holne development in Dartmoor. CPRE looks forward to continuing to work with Hastoe to ensure that the viability and sustainability of rural communities is enhanced.
1National Housing Federation (2014) Who wants to buy a house in the country article
2Commission for Rural Communities (2006) Calculating Housing Needs in Rural England
3Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (2013) Living in Rural Areas: Housing
Find out more
Download our briefing paper Neighbourhood Plans: how they are working towards CPRE's vision for the countryside (452K PDF)