Frome housing crisis declared by Town Council after successful public meeting!
‘A decent, affordable home is as essential as having clean air to breathe, and should be a right for us all, wherever we live across the country. It is the foundation of our health, happiness and prosperity.’ National Housing Federation 2023
On Tuesday 18th July a public meeting was held by Frome Area Community Land Trust (FACLT) and Frome Town Council to explore the housing crisis in Frome.
Real Life Stories
In the run up to the meeting Frome Town Council and FACLT collected real-life stories from local people about their experiences of the housing crisis. Some of the stories were shared with those attending the meeting, for example a family with a disabled child waiting more than 4 years for suitable housing, another family with multiple health problems living in a mould infested house, a pensioner living in their family’s shed as they can’t afford to rent here. These and other stories illustrate the inequalities in the renting market, the cost of living crisis and lack of availability of affordable housing, all creating massive insecurity and negatively impacting people’s health and wellbeing.
Delia Goddard (a FACLT Director) has been exploring the recent housing data, nationally and locally, and shared what she found (the presentation will be made available on the website). She asked people to think about this question as they listened to the facts…
‘What can we do individually and as a community to enable those of our neighbours who are not adequately housed, to find a safe, decent home that’s suitable for their needs and that they can genuinely afford to live in?
According to the National Housing Federation (2021) there are 8.5 million people in England who can’t access the housing they need in the UK, and the Campaign to Protect Rural England says ‘A country faces a housing crisis when a significant part of the population doesn’t have access to a safe, decent home that’s suitable for their needs and that they can genuinely afford to live in.’
A study conducted by UWE (Housing Affordability in the South West of England March 2023) showed that the factors affecting affordability in the South-West are high house prices, low earnings, 2nd homes and holiday lets, migration, the impact of right to buy and impacts of national and local policies.
Here in Frome average rents (according to a local rental agency) are between £600-£700 for a 1 bed, £850-£975 for a 2 bed, £1000-£1,300 for a 3 bed and £1,400-£1,600 for a 4 bed. There are very few opportunities for multiple occupancy rentals, massive competition for tenancy, and generally low availability.
We always seem to be hearing about new homes being built locally, with a 30% requirement for affordable housing on new developments (over 10 houses). Yet despite the intensive need, the statistics from 2007 to 2022 show only 1754 houses were built in Frome during those 15 years, and of those only 402 (23%) were considered ‘affordable’. 563 houses have consent but have not yet been built, but of these only 17% are ‘affordable’.
Finally, the Homefinder Somerset data shows that a total of 684 households are currently waiting for social housing in the Frome area. Last year only 105 social homes became available in this area (only 2 with wheelchair access) and with an average of 83 bids for every home that is advertised, competition is fierce!
Following the presentation of the data and local real-life stories, a panel discussion was facilitated by Sophie Docker. Panellists included Ali Barclay (a founder of Fair Housing for Frome and member of FACLT board), Steve Watson (Director of Middlemarch Community Led Housing CIC), Town Cllr Polly Lamb (previously ran a lettings company in Frome), and Stephen Fowler (who has extensive experience in landlord and tenant law, led a property management business and provides in house consultancy for agents, housing charities, local authorities and associations).
The discussion generated a lot of comments, ideas and questions…
– It was noted how few multiple occupancy rentals are available in Frome, how can we encourage and support landlords to take that path?
– Under occupancy could be a blessing in disguise for owner occupiers, with options for people living alone to gain a tax-free income of £7,500 from having a lodger. Or house sharing options for older people with support needs and younger people with housing needs.
– The economic difficulties in retrofitting central town buildings to create flats was discussed and concluded to be an unlikely solution with such expensive prices.
– The challenges of finding land for development when brownfield sites are not an option, and greenfield sites are so valued for their support of nature and wellbeing. How can we create new developments which will boost wellbeing and biodiversity?
– The pattern of developers mostly not meeting the 30% affordable housing requirements in local developments was highlighted, with calls to amend future local planning policy to demand 40% affordable housing to reflect our greater need. Is it possible to hold developers accountable for not achieving requirements?
– Others pointed out that we need new developments with 100% social housing to be able to meet the demand, such as the current North Parade development, and discussed issues with right to buy removing social stock. Can we create community led eco-friendly housing which can remain affordable in perpetuity?
– Many people spoke in support of a declaration of an official housing crisis here in Frome, to ignite a social movement to work together to solve these problems.
Frome Town Council Declares Housing Crisis!
We a very excited to announce that at the Council Meeting on 9th August, Frome Town Council declared a Housing Crisis and promised to keep housing, a fundamental human right and the issues associated with safe access to it, at the top of the Council’s agenda.
Why declare a Housing Crisis?
Frome Town Councillor Polly Lamb said: “There are a number of factors that have led us to where we are today. Following years of underfunding by central government we have a housing crisis in the UK. There is simply not enough good safe and secure housing in the rental market. The right to buy has destabilised the housing market, taking housing out of the social housing stock, meaning that more people enter the private rental market which in turn has pushed up prices. Using houses as commodities rather than homes for the last 40 years has had a devastating effect on safe and secure housing in Frome. We need to represent our local population by both pressing hard for change, supporting where we can and making sure the issues stay high on our agenda.”
What are the issues?
“Here in Frome, there are over 600 households currently on the social housing list, and only 49 homes have become available in the last six months – which sounds like a lot but that leaves 551 households in a very vulnerable position. This also pushes up demand for private rentals, as there are simply not enough houses in the rental market and pushes up prices for all. Add to this that Frome is also a desirable place to live, which can mean bidding wars for the few private rental properties that become available. This can favour people moving from elsewhere as wages are low in Somerset.
The average rental cost is now £1,499 a month, which is 50% of the average salary – this makes it unaffordable for a lot of people, and prices many of Frome’s young people out of Frome.”
With high rents and really limited housing stock what will declaring a Housing Crisis do and what does this mean for Frome?
“We can commit to working with Frome Area Community Land Trust (FACLT), to find land and help them gain momentum and support – a community land trust is the only mechanism through which social housing can be kept as social rentals in perpetuity. We can also work with the housing authority Somerset Council and lobby the government to support a policy of developers bringing forward 40% affordable and social rental homes. We can work with the housing authority to review holiday lets by checking permissions are in place and work with developers and others to ensure that in the first instance they market the affordable homes to people who already in Frome. Ultimately, there is a lot then we can explore, and by declaring a Housing Crisis we can keep the issue high on the agenda and try and bring about positive change.”
Frome Town Council will now work with partners including FACLT to develop an action plan which will be brought forward to October’s meeting.
Find out more and get involved…
Watch the 18th July Public Meeting
Watch the 9th August Town Council meeting
We are calling on our community to support and help FACLT with future research and working to create fair housing in Frome.
Providing genuinely affordable homes in Frome is a long-term project and it’s not going to happen overnight. As with other CLT’s the Frome Area Community Land Trust is in it for the long haul; our first community led housing project might take a while to come to fruition and when it does, we won’t be stopping there! So we need the support of our local community to make it happen – whether that’s with land, ideas or with people joining and helping to take projects forward.
Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you can help in any way