Monday 14th May 2018

Young People In Rural Areas Need Genuinely Affordable Housing Options

By WISH Midlands Region

Shropshire is often viewed as a rural idyll but average house prices are 8.5 times the average salary.

This makes it impossible for young people to think about getting on the housing ladder.  There are also issues in accessing rented accommodation as support for housing costs are restricted to a local ‘shared room rate’ applied to most young people under 35.  Few 1 bedroomed properties will meet this notional shared rate, and shared accommodation is difficult to set-up in rural areas due to costs of management.

The answer should be to look to local social housing providers to but other drivers have limited their organisational response.  The 1% rent cut may bring a few existing properties back into the reach of young people but lower development grants led to an intense focus on operating margins that has meant that shared and 1 bedroomed properties rarely figure in new development plans in any areas.

Housing associations are also reviewing the areas and properties that they manage and some properties have been sold into the private market.  In rural areas costs of building are higher and properties are more expensive to manage due to a lack of economies of scale.  Also, the response to costs pressures has helped to drive mergers.  Many of those involved are old LSVT associations who are seeking to spread their risk by moving into other housing markets but, looking over a wider geographic area, the new organisation may view rural markets as at too small a scale, more expensive and difficult to develop than other areas and take a decision to exit.

In Shropshire some organisations have exited the County.  Uncertainty over long-term service funding for supported housing and related services has also affected this type of provision.  More than one housing association has ended their involvement in supported housing schemes for young people.  The Council decided that strategically the last few schemes in the County must be supported.  The Council owned company, STAR Housing, worked with an exiting provider and acquired a building for the Council.  The project for 16-25 year olds will reopen this May to be run by STAR Housing.

However, the squeeze on Council funding means that it’s capacity to directly support rural housing and related services is limited.  It’s not all gloom and doom though.  Recent increases in grant rates should help associations to consider provision in rural areas.  There are a few housing associations that are extremely dedicated to rural Shropshire and can now consider developing again for social rent in areas where local incomes are low.

Landowners, local communities and businesses are very supportive of developing genuinely affordable provision.  The Much Wenlock Neighbourhood Plan led to more community led affordable housing development but communities need more support to develop plans and landowners to release land for affordable housing.  To ensure more progress we need continued funding for neighbourhood plans and revisions to inheritance tax and capital gains to incentivise landowners to release land specifically for affordable housing.

We should also giving flexibility to Councils to control some matters impacting on the provision of rural housing.  They should have flexibility over empty homes premiums to finance temporary accommodation and homelessness services and be free to exempt properties in most demand from the Right-to-Buy.  Also, exemption from the bedroom tax for rural properties would be helpful as the stock of rural properties rarely match completely the profile of those in need in such small populations.

The reward for addressing rural housing provision for young people is creating confident balanced rural communities supporting those who need services and rural business.  The risk is that our rural communities will be hollowed out, providing a picturesque backdrop where people struggle to access the services they need and rural businesses and agriculture will be unable to recruit the workers necessary to thrive.

About the author 

WISH Midlands Region

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