Is community-led housing the answer to the need for more decent affordable homes in rural areas?

Rural Housing Week shines a spotlight on the need for more affordable, good quality housing across Yorkshire. Rural Action Yorkshire and the North and East Yorkshire Rural Housing Enabler Network (RHE Network) today launch a new initiative to help communities to look at solving the problem in their own village or market town by taking forward community-led housing solutions.

Rural Action Yorkshire and the North and East Yorkshire Rural Housing Enabler Network (RHE Network) have secured funding from the Nationwide Foundation, North Star Housing and the UK Cohousing network for a new project to explore the potential for community-led housing to be part of the solution to the shortage of affordable, good quality housing in rural North Yorkshire and East Riding.

Community-led housing allows people and communities to lead in providing their own housing solutions – creating sustainable, affordable and lasting homes; building resilient and confident local communities; and helping people to develop skills they never knew they had. It can take a variety of legal forms: current models include self-help housing, cohousing, cooperatives, community land trusts and community self-build.

While current estimates suggest that community-led housing represents less than 1% of housing in the UK, there is a growing level of interest in different approaches. The new project will consider what community-led housing might look like for this area and also assess the appetite of rural communities to lead the delivery of affordable housing, supported by the RHE Network.

The result will be five pilot communities working on bringing community-led housing to fruition in North Yorkshire and East Riding. The project will also create resources that will be disseminated to other community councils across England with the intention of supporting more communities to take forward community-led housing projects.

Leah Swain, Chief Officer at Rural Action Yorkshire believes: “The shortage of affordable housing is a major issue, yet many communities are loath to have commercial developers sweep into their village and put up houses that do not meet the needs of their residents. These commercial developments are often large, luxury builds, with only a small number of affordable homes. However, many rural communities would be much more receptive to considering new housing developments if the resulting homes were to meet local housing needs and were the of right size and type for local people. We need more genuinely affordable homes, both for growing young families and, for those later in life, for people to downsize to. A good mix of affordable housing supports a diverse and mixed-aged community, which in turn helps keep local shops, post offices, pubs and schools open.”

The need for additional rural affordable homes in this area is well-established. Average house prices are around £222,000, which is 9.4 times of average income in Yorkshire – ranging from 7.6 times in Scarborough to 11.2 times in Harrogate.  Average private sector rents are £590 per month – ranging from £438 in Scarborough to £802 in Harrogate​. House prices in rural areas and in our two national parks are significantly higher, whilst typical local earnings are lower than the average. In some rural areas, only one fifth of the homes we need have been built over the last five years.

There is also competition in the rural housing market from second and holiday home owners: there are almost 10,000 second homes in North and East Yorkshire – around 2.5% of the total (urban and rural) stock. However, this percentage rises significantly in rural areas, for example a recent ONS release showed 22% of household spaces in the Yorkshire Dales and 17% in the North York Moors National Parks were second and holiday and vacant dwellings.

Sarah Hall, Housing Strategy Manager commented: “Providing more good quality, affordable rural housing is both a huge challenge and a high priority for communities and local authorities. High house prices, the scarcity of sites, the viability of rural developments, the potential loss of affordable housing through the extension of the Right to Buy to Housing Association tenants and the replacement of future affordable homes with Starter Homes all threaten our ability to deliver more rural affordable housing”.

Gary Hartin, programme manager from the Nationwide Foundation said: “The lack of decent affordable housing in rural areas is often a hidden and over-looked problem, yet it is severely limiting the opportunities that people have to work and live in the communities they have always lived in. This in turn negatively impacts on the diversity and vibrancy of rural towns and villages. We are funding this work to explore how homes which really meet the needs the communities can be created through a community-led approach. We know that this approach to respectful and thoughtful development is much more acceptable to communities and we would like to see it lead to an increase in community-led homes in North Yorkshire and East Riding.”

To sign up for help with community-led housing, or for more information on community-led housing, please email Sarah.Hall@Hambleton.gov.uk or Leah.Swain@ruralyorkshire.org.uk or telephone Sarah Hall on 01609 767090 or Leah Swain on 01904 704177.