People across the country are struggling to find affordable places to live, and there’s no shortage of coverage of the problem. But what’s often overlooked is the fact that rural areas are being hit so much harder by the lack of affordable housing.
Affordable rural housing: how landowners can help
Only 8% of housing in rural areas is classed as affordable, compared to 20% in urban areas. Add to this the fact that rural wages are on average lower than those in urban areas, and it’s not difficult to see why rural communities are facing a crisis. The average age in rural communities is rising as young people and families are being priced out, and services like post offices, pubs and shops are closing as customers and potential employees are forced to move elsewhere.
To keep our rural communities thriving, we urgently need to find a way to get more affordable homes built. CPRE’s new paper, ‘On Solid Ground’ suggests that rural landowners have a crucial role to play in helping to solve the problem. With strong ties to their communities – often with their families having lived there for generations – rural landowners naturally have an interest in helping their communities flourish. By investing in affordable housing on their land, landowners can help provide places for local people to live – as well as benefiting from a steady, low-risk investment stream.
There are different approaches landowners could take to providing affordable housing. Under current Government policy, landowners can release land at less than market value to provide sites for affordable housing, even in areas where other types of building may not be permitted. Landowners may want to finance and develop an affordable housing scheme themselves, or to work with a third party such as a rural housing association.
There are precedents that show this works. In the village of Burwell, Cambridgeshire, landowner Patrick Faircliffe contacted Hastoe Housing Association after seeing a local magazine article that called for local landowners interested in releasing land for social housing. Faircliffe sold land to Hastoe at a nominal value and permission was granted for 11 homes.
The problem is that recent legal, policy and economic changes have made it increasingly difficult for landowners to invest in affordable housing. Too often, landowners are put off by the perception that the process of developing housing is complex, bureaucratic and not very rewarding. The Government needs to ensure there is a friendly framework for landowners who might be inclined to provide affordable housing.
One reason landowners invest in affordable housing is to help local people unable to find somewhere to live: in a 2011 poll 75% of estate owners stated ‘acting to benefit the community’ as a reason why they would consider putting forward a site for affordable housing. But the letting systems used by many councils don’t allow for prioritising local tenants – meaning that the housing could go to those without ties to the local community, leaving people in need in the community still finding themselves forced to move away. Landowners would be more willing to provide affordable housing if they had more confidence that this would benefit those in their community.
Financial incentives would also encourage landowners to take the plunge into developing affordable housing. Government should view the provision of rural affordable housing as a social utility, and tax it accordingly in order to encourage its development . There’s also the possibility of opportunity to allow for the provision of land for affordable housing to benefit from a tax break. The paper explores specific tax measures which can help achieve this.
Landowners know all too well the pressures that rural communities are facing, and they have the tools to provide part of the solution to the problem. If we want to make sure more affordable housing is built in rural areas, we need to make it as easy as possible for them to help. Encouraging landowners to invest in affordable housing is the most straightforward way to ensure that people are able to live and work in rural communities for generations to come.