Lack of rural affordable homes hits crisis point

A DESPERATE shortage of affordable homes in north Northumberland has been highlighted by shock figures which show that thousands of families are waiting for social housing.

The stark statistics were released at the launch of Northern Rural Housing Week to reveal the plight of people who are being forced out of the countryside by high prices and a lack of available properties.

Just 14 new affordable homes are being built on average each year in Alnwick, while 11,650 Northumberland families are still waiting to find accommodation within their means, according to the National Housing Federation (NHF).

An average home in Alnwick costs £201,918 – more than 10.2 times the average income.

Sir Alan Beith MP was at Lesbury Village Hall last Friday to meet representatives from the federation, as well as the Homes and Communities Agency, to discuss the scale of the problem.

“We chose Lesbury as a good example of what can be done when developers work with the local authority, as happened at Townfoot in the village,” said Sir Alan. “The former Alnwick District Council took quite a lead in encouraging schemes of this kind, so there is a good tradition of trying to address the problems surrounding affordable housing here.

“One person living here told me they felt like they had won the lottery, being able to get a home locally. Another said getting a house at Townfoot was a miracle. I know all of these families, which underlines the fact that local people are getting the opportunity to live in properties built in these schemes.

“Everyone recognises that we face a very difficult situation which is being limited by the amount of capital available and the decline of the housing market, but with housing associations, councils and developers working together, we can try to make sure that we continue getting good schemes like this.

“The national debate seems to give the impression that no one wants houses built in the countryside, but in villages throughout north Northumberland, people are acutely aware of the need for homes which fit in and are available for local use.”

Monica Burns, North East lead manager for the National Housing Federation, said: “Rural communities in Alnwick are under threat due to a lack of affordable housing. Families who have lived in the countryside for generations are being priced out, they need new affordable housing or they will have no choice but to move away to urban areas.

“Housing associations are doing their best to bridge the gap, but they urgently need more Government support to build new homes. Developers face additional hurdles when building social housing in the countryside, but these must be overcome to keep villages alive.

“Hundreds of village shops, pubs and schools are closing year on year – social housing is a key way to keep local families in villages and ensure rural communities stay alive and well.”

The NHF says finding suitable land is often a barrier to building new homes in rural areas. Often identifying even a small piece of land suitable for development can provide a few vital affordable homes.

In 2010, an ICM poll showed that 63 per cent of country-dwellers in the North East agreed there was a shortage of affordable housing for local people where they lived.

Similarly, 61 per cent of those asked in the region said that families and young people were being priced out of the countryside and 72 per cent said they would support a small number of homes being built for local people.

Organised by the National Housing Federation, the voice of affordable housing in the North, Rural Housing Week will see social landlords host events to demonstrate to local politicians the essential role of affordable housing in a thriving countryside.