If the Frome Area Community Land Trust (FACLT) is to succeed in providing new, genuinely affordable homes for local people in housing need, it is likely that we will be involved in housing development on some existing green spaces. Those objecting to building on such sites rightly point out that easy access to green spaces is essential to our mental and physical well-being. While I totally agree, I think it is vital to also recognise the powerful relationship between decent, affordable homes and well-being.
With spiralling rents and house prices, and an extremely limited supply of social housing, hundreds of people and families in Frome are currently living in unsuitable accommodation (i). Examples include overcrowding, rents soaking up much of a household’s income (ii), insecure tenancies, having to live with parents well into adulthood or in shared accommodation with strangers, and poor housing conditions. The pandemic and cost of living crisis are of course exacerbating the situation for many. One in three private renter households in England have lost income as a result of the pandemic and lockdowns. One in eight renters are in debt to their landlords and millions more are worried about the cost of living. Housing charities are warning that thousands of renters face losing their homes now that the government has ended its suspension of eviction proceedings (iii).
These cold facts are disturbing in themselves, but what they fail to convey is the mental and emotional impact on human beings. Getting into rent arrears leads many tenants into a chronic state of stress and anxiety (iv). This in turn can lead to relationship problems, with anger and stress provoking arguments in households. Fear of losing one’s home leads to poor sleep, which can play a causal role in developing and maintaining different mental health problems such as depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disorders and ADHD (v). Research in Sweden found that individuals facing eviction were four times more likely to attempt suicide than the rest of the population (vi). And renters who feel insecure are less likely to make legitimate demands or complaints about property or management issues through fear of ‘revenge eviction’.
Living in unsuitable, unaffordable housing can have a profoundly detrimental effect on our ability to get our fundamental human needs met. Besides a core need for security, we also need to feel a degree of autonomy, of control over own lives. But feeling trapped in the place you live, unable to access other housing options, leaves many feeling ongoing frustration and disappointment (vii). We have a need for achievement and for carving out our own place in the world; but, for example, returning to or being stuck in your parents’ home as an adult leaves many feeling disempowered, ‘failures’, positioned as children. We need a sense of community, to feel that we belong to group wider than our immediate family or friends. But it’s extremely hard to get this if you have to move home regularly, or move away from your home town or place of work or support network. And we also need to access privacy from time to time; but the increasing pressure, particularly on younger people in the rented sector, to move into shared accommodation and HMOs (‘Homes of Multiple Occupation’), can deprive them of the privacy, control, and choice so essential to their well-being.
The relationship between mental distress and inadequate housing works both ways. A person who is chronically depressed or anxious as a result of their housing situation is likely to become less effective at doing anything about it; for example, by paying off rent arrears, proactively seeking social housing, challenging irresponsible landlords, or engaging with supportive community organisations and projects. In addition, many in housing need have little time to do more than, for example, look after their families or try to earn a living.
The importance of the home for sustaining well-being has become all the more pronounced as a result of the pandemic. The lock-downs were particularly difficult for those living in cramped conditions or without adequate facilities. Not all homes are suitable for home working, and people now need a safe and secure base to help recover from the pandemic and its effects. A recent Health Impact Assessment has shown how the pandemic has had a range of negative impacts in relation to housing: greater insecurity for many in the private rented sector; increased energy costs and fuel poverty; some women, children and young people at greater risk of harm from domestic violence and abuse; and difficulty maintaining physical and community support networks (viii).
FACLT is on a mission, together with other community organisations in and around Frome, to start tackling, at least on a local level, what is not just a housing crisis but a well-being crisis. We are committed to acquiring and using land for maximum community benefit. But we know this won’t be easy, not only because some commercial developers and landowners have another agenda, but also because our own community has different interests and needs, which must be negotiated and hopefully reconciled. Including our needs for green spaces and for decent, affordable homes for all.
Chair of the Board of FACLT
i Frome Housing Needs Survey 2021
ii Private renters in the UK pay on average one-third of their incomes on rents, compared with 17% for home-owners (Resolution Foundation – Covid Study Oct. 2020)
iii English Housing Survey: Housing Resilience Study, Wave 1 – June-July 2020 – Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government
iv Mind – ‘Housing and Mental Health’ 2017
v Scott, A.J., Webb, T.L., Rowse, G. – ‘Does Improving Sleep Lead to Better Mental Health’ 2017
vi Rojas, Y. & Stenberg, S.A. – ‘Evictions and Suicide’ 2016
vii McKee, K. & Soaita, A.M. 2018 – ‘The frustrated housing aspirations of generation rent’ – CaCHE: Glasgow
viii ‘No Place Like Home? Exploring the health and well-being impact of Covid-19 on housing and housing insecurity’ – Public Health Wales, Nov 2021