Unless we build more affordable homes, our villages will suffer

08 July 2015

Nick Horne, our Chief Executive, explains why the lack of affordable homes in rural areas should be a concern for us here in the South West.

There’s a housing crisis in the West of England and Somerset today which is having a significant impact on our rural communities. A shortage of affordable housing means individuals and families living in the countryside are struggling to find the homes they need to rent or to buy at a price they can afford.

Affordable housing has therefore become a key issue for many living in the South West. As in much of rural England, house prices are high, while thousands of people are on below average incomes.

In the West of England and Somerset, house prices are 8-11 times the average salary. This is reflected across the rest of the South West too, with some areas seeing house prices as high as 14 times the average salary.

Figures released by the National Housing Federation (NHF) today as part of Rural Housing Week show that around half of the 50 most unaffordable places to live in England outside of London, are in rural areas, with many of those in the South West.

People living and working in the countryside are being pushed out, as house prices in rural areas soar and second homes lie empty. This undersupply of affordable housing also puts local shops, health centres, care homes and schools at risk of closure.

In addition to this there’s a risk that, in years to come, rural populations across the South West will see a significant demographic shift, as younger people are priced out of the countryside. The NHF’s figures show that West Somerset has the highest projected proportion of pensioner households by 2021, with nearly half (47%) of households expected to be headed by someone aged over 65.

Younger people with aspirations to live and work in rural areas will increasingly be unable to find homes they can afford if we do not tackle the housing crisis. 

Building more affordable homes in rural areas benefits communities and it benefits the economy. It keeps villages working and thriving, it helps local people to remain living in the areas they’ve grown up in, often near friends and family, and it ensures the continued demand for local services.

That’s why we support the NHF’s call for more rural housing through building the right homes in the right places, at affordable prices, for those who need it. Over 13% of our 11,000 homes are in rural areas, and we invest significantly in our rural neighbourhoods to ensure that they remain great places to live, for all. 

Successive governments have consistently failed to support the building of enough homes in rural communities, to keep up with the demand. In rural districts in England, there was a shortfall of nearly 11,000 affordable homes built in 2014/15, compared to those needed to keep up with projected demand.

The Government must act now to support the provision of more affordable housing in rural communities.

The NHF’s Rural Housing Week, 6-12 July, highlights the critical need for more homes to protect and sustain our country’s villages. It provides us with an opportunity to keep housing on the national and local political agenda and to continue the work to fix this housing crisis, which affects not only our rural communities, but also towns and cities across the South West.

We’re calling on the Conservative Government to publish a long-term plan by next May, which sets out how they will tackle the housing shortage. Housing associations are up for this challenge now, but we need commitment from government to help us sustain our rural communities for future generations.

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