Influencing Public Policy

By raising awareness, and encouraging collaborative partnerships, we can influence public policy and help to create lasting change in our town.

‘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 2023 a public meeting was held by Frome Area Community Land Trust (FACLT) and Frome Town Council to explore the housing crisis in Frome. 

FACLT recognises that Frome has been experiencing a housing crisis for some years, with spiralling rents and house prices, increasing homelessness, displacement and housing insecurity.

We work with the community to explore all possibilities for creating community led, affordable housing, and ensuring that those at the sharp end of the housing crisis have their voices heard and opportunities to engage.

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.

FACLT had been exploring the recent housing data, nationally and locally, and shared the information gathered. People were asked 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?

Following the presentation discussion generated many 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 taking advantage of Homeshare, a house sharing initiative encouraging older people with support needs and younger people with housing needs to share a home.

– The economics of retrofitting town centre buildings to create flats was discussed.  This is expensive in a town where property prices are so high and likely to be uneconomic for FACLT.

– The challenge 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?

– Developers repeatedly 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?

– Maybe new developments with 100% social housing are necessary to meet the demand, such as the current North Parade development. Can we create community led eco-friendly genuinely affordable 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.

Presentation from the meeting...

Housing Crisis meeting by Caroline Wajsblum

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 Housing Crisis Progress

Since Frome Town Council declared a housing crisis here in Frome, we have been busy working together to create a workable plan for tackling the crisis.

The working group is identifying measurable tasks within the scope of the council’s budget and work programme that will have a positive impact on housing in the town. The group will also recommend the role that Frome Area Community Land Trust should play in implementing the plan.

Some of the priorities identified for inclusion in the plan:

1. Ensuring that Somerset Council recognise the scale of the housing crisis and use their powers to get more affordable housing built. This must involve collaborating with Somerset Council Councillors.

2. Raising awareness of housing need and the shortage of affordable homes, and reaching out to other community organisations to find out their views and the roles they can play.

3. Making better use of existing housing; for example researching empty properties, residential and commercial, and encouraging schemes like Home Share and Supported Lodgings.

4. Enabling Frome Area Community Land Trust to acquire land and build affordable homes, as well as helping people currently struggling. This might involve the employment of a housing development officer whose primary role would be the promotion of Frome’s housing needs. 

5. Exploring funding possibilities arising from national publicity as the first Parish Council to declare a housing crisis.

6. Continuing to leverage media coverage, concentrating on positive actions, sharing information and local stories.

FACLT welcomes YOUR ideas on how the housing crisis can be tackled. We will also need support with our ongoing development of this plan.
If you can offer your ideas, and/or time and support, please think about sharing your time and skills.

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