The low availability of affordable housing in rural compared with urban areas is a persistent challenge. Affordable housing in rural areas accounts for only 8% of housing stock, compared with 20% in urban areas, exacerbated by lower average salaries in rural areas. But now the Government’s helping out.
This year’s Budget announced the creation of a £60 million fund to support community-led housing developments, helping foster the involvement of local people in meeting housing needs, by placing them at the heart of making the development they wish for happen. It should also help address the current housing affordability crisis specific to rural communities: £19 million of the £60 million fund will be focused on rural and coastal areas.
‘Community-led’ however is a term which is associated with a broad set of values that organisations may interpret in different ways. Community-led development can range from community-led housing, in which local people lead in planning decisions from the very beginning; to how communities can become integrated and active in the designing of places where they feel they belong; to housing developed around social, environmental, and self-sufficiency values - rather than just four walls providing shelter and an investment for the future. And Community Land Trusts are mentioned as one of the channels for this funding in the Budget announcement.
In general, community-led housing is not for profit (any income generated supports local priorities), involves considerable effort from volunteers, and provides affordable homes for the people who need them now and in the long-term. But there are models from elsewhere: countries such as The Netherlands and Germany have well-developed community-led housing projects providing thousands of homes. Community-led development is key to moving away from a situation in which communities feel that planning decisions are forced upon them by people who are not directly affected by the development.
Considering the many facets of community-led development, there is no little anticipation concerning how Government will decide to allocate the £60 million. Aside from Community Land Trusts, the question is whether this funding will also be accessible to housing associations. This may be decided on a case-by-case basis and depend on how involved the local community is throughout the entire span of the development. Although housing associations are currently under pressure and reduced capacity due to lack of funding, they play an essential role in rural development, and delivered the majority (64% to 73% annually ) of affordable housing in rural areas between 2008 and 2014.
Neighbourhood planning exemplifies the positive impact that empowering local communities can have with regard to housing delivery, with a 10% increase in housing allocations in areas that have Neighbourhood Plans. This also demonstrates that Government support for rural affordable housing needs to be a sustained over the long term if these issues are to be tackled comprehensively. This £60 million is part of the solution, but the hope is that it will not be tokenistic, and that Government funding for community-led development and rural affordable housing will continue to grow. Government will need to look carefully at how the fund is spent and how much housing it delivers to ensure that it demonstrates value for money in practice, looking to more self-sustaining funding sources for the future.
This fund is therefore a welcome source of support from the Government, and in line with the growing realisation that communities need to be more empowered to influence planning decisions locally. Funding for community-led development enables houses to be delivered by the people who want to live in them, in response to their specific needs and aspirations. This is a real opportunity for locals to drive the development of community-led housing in which people create their own solutions to more diverse, better-suited, and well-loved homes.