The case for affordable housing in rural communities

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The case for affordable housing in rural communities

Rural housing is a complex subject and people have differing views. However, what can’t be disputed is that if villages are to thrive in a sustainable way, then a variety of housing to meet different needs and budgets is essential to stop places simply becoming commuter dormitories.

This is our take on some of the criticisms of providing new affordable rural housing:

1. There isn’t a need for affordable homes in our small rural village

How do you know if you don’t ask?

What we do know is that house prices in rural villages are very high (often higher than in nearby towns) and that people who work in those villages are often on lower salaries than people who work in towns. People who are priced out of homes on the local market often don’t ask to be placed on the local housing register and in that sense can be hidden form the usual statistics and numbers identifying housing need.

Here’s what an applicant for a new affordable housing scheme in north Oxfordshire said recently:

‘I’ve lived in this village for 6 years now, and I’ve seen the options that are unavailable to me. I watched every new development being built with a sense of dismay. I also refuse to give in to the nagging suspicion that I don’t deserve to stay here because I haven’t sacrificed my ideals or tried hard enough’.

Need may not only be from those without a home of their own or who live in expensive or inadequate housing. Older people in the community can find themselves trapped in housing that is too big and getting increasingly unmanageable with nowhere suitable to move to in the village.

There is absolutely no harm in carrying out an independent housing needs survey to find out about local needs and – at the moment – Community First Oxfordshire can often carry these out free of charge.

2. The homes don’t go to local people, who always seem to miss out on affordable housing

Due to the overall shortage of affordable housing it’s true that – in general – only those in the most acute housing need are housed from the Council’s housing register. However, where a rural exception site has been identified, this is only giving planning permission to allow affordable homes to be built for local people. The land is bound by a legal agreement, prioritising the homes for people with a connection to the village. This means that people will get priority for the homes if they live, work, or have close family connections in the village.

Communities looking at a potential rural exception site should engage with the Council at an early stage to agree what the specific local connections policy should be. CFO can help with this. Local people who want to move into the homes will still need to register with the Council.

3. Rural housing isn’t sustainable as there isn’t good transport or services for the people who move in

The problem is that unless there are people who will use local services, they will become unsustainable and die out.

For services to carry on they also need local people who want to work locally to staff them (think of the local school, the local shop, all the local clubs and voluntary initiatives). Second homes or homes being used as holiday lets can add to this problem, with negative impacts on community spirit.

4. Rural affordable housing isn’t really affordable for people and gets sold off anyway

Affordability in rural areas is important as wages in the local economy are often low. There are several affordable tenures, with the most affordable being Social Rent. This is calculated using a government formula but tends to come at about 50% of the cost of local private rents. Affordable Rent is set at 80% of local private rents but is usually capped through the planning agreement at the level of the Local Housing Allowance (this is the most people can get for their housing costs through benefits).

There is more grant funding from government now to enable social housing which is usually the most affordable tenure. Low-cost home ownership options can help people get into property ownership. Shared ownership generally requires a lower deposit, but overall, the dual cost of a mortgage and a rent can still be high. There are also products such as discount market sale and first homes. This is where the whole property is sold at a discount from the open market value with the discount then protected for each subsequent sale through a restriction on the title.

Many social housing properties are sold off under right to buy legislation but homes on rural exception sites are protected from this through the planning agreement.

5. Affordable housing will ruin the look of our village

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but we think the design of the houses featured in this article (built by our partner Hastoe Housing) are pretty striking!

Communities taking the initiative to provide more affordable homes can have more input and control over the design of the homes.

This starts with the selection of the site and goes on through to the design brief and beyond. Community First Oxfordshire is now working with specialist rural housing associations which set high standards for design quality including sustainable and low carbon building.





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