Rural Housing at a Time of Economic Change
A new report states that government policy reforms ‘will impact disproportionately on rural areas.'
Funded by the Commission for Rural Communities, the Cambridge Centre for Housing and Planning Research has published a report entitled, Rural Housing at a Time of Economic Change. It aims to develop a new understanding for rural areas of the changing levels of rents, the quality and location of available housing, the impact of recent and forthcoming government policies on social and private tenants, and migration.
The findings of the report are concerning. In terms of housing quality, ‘homes in rural areas are substantially more likely to fail to meet the decent homes standard.' In addition, they are also more ‘thermally inefficient’. Basically, it costs more to heat them. This adds another cost burden to tenants, on top of already elevated rents, which is another central focus of the report.
The report’s finding that there is ‘substantial variation in private rental costs between rural areas’ is supported by ongoing research by the Oxfordshire Rural Housing Partnership’s (ORHP) Rural Housing Enablers. Analysis of recent Housing Needs Surveys reveal that 58% of respondents in housing need are unable to afford a rent set at 80% of the local private rental cost. It is an inescapable conclusion that rising rental costs are exacerbating rural housing problems, making it even more difficult for households, especially the young, those on single incomes, and those with a growing family to maintain a home.
The government’s New Affordable Rent (NAR) model may also contribute to this growing crisis of affordability. In order to make up the funding shortfall to Housing Associations when it cut the affordable housing budget by 60%, the government introduced the NAR. This allows Housing Associations to charge up to 80% of local market rents on affordable housing developments. The ORHP is now coming across rising concern in parishes where developments are being built under the NAR that the new homes may be priced beyond the range of residents not on housing benefit.
Welfare reform policy adds another dimension to this already difficult situation. The Cambridge report found that the reduction of housing benefit for working-age social tenants who ‘under-occupy’ their homes will impact disproportionately on rural areas. Yet there are good reasons why a higher proportion of rural households under-occupy, including a ‘shortage of smaller properties’ and ‘a desire on the part of social landlords to accommodate people in homes that they can grow into.’
In essence, there are too many people struggling with housing costs and more affordable homes need to be built. But despite all the negatives it is important to state that affordable rural housing development continues in Oxfordshire, from initial needs surveys to the completion of finished homes. 2011-12 saw several Rural Exception Site developments completed by the ORHP, from Hornton to Blewbury and Stanton Harcourt to East Hendred. Grants, though reduced, are still available for development and surveys reveal a consistent level of 60-70% support for affordable housing development. The trick is to keep the work going, as the ORHP continues to do in over 40 parishes across the county.
The Cambridge Report can be accessed here.
Tags: Rural housing