By Paul Walsh – Director – Selwood Housing Group

Many of us are lucky enough to have a place to call home and so it’s easy to think that having a home is a given. But there’s a crisis happening that’s impacting 8 million people across the country and although it impacts so many people, in many ways this crisis remains largely hidden. 

The sky-high cost of home ownership, rising rents and rental insecurity have left millions without a secure and stable place to call home, with many either homeless or living in cramped, dangerous and unaffordable housing. The working families we rely on and have really relied on during the pandemic need local, secure and stable homes too, including shop workers, cleaners, teaching assistants, delivery drivers, those providing essential repairs. We rely on so many essential key workers and the pandemic has really highlighted this. 

So, what’s the solution to this systemic problem? Can we wait to fix the housing market or do we simply need to get on and build more secure and affordable homes? 

Social rented homes are provided by housing associations or local councils and offer affordable rents in line with local incomes as well as secure, long-term tenancies. Social homes provide stability, safety and affordability, and give people a foundation on which to build their lives. 

The benefits of social housing go beyond providing a secure home and improving the lives of social housing tenants. Building social housing helps to create and sustain jobs, boost the economy of the local area and by enabling local residents to live affordably in their towns and cities, we strengthen community resilience. 

Putting this into local context, the town of Frome in Somerset has 500 households currently on the waiting list for affordable homes in the town with demand continuing to increase. That’s over 1,000 people. 

Frome Area Community Land Trust, Selwood Housing Group and Mendip District Council have begun working together with the aim of increasing the provision of sustainable, high-quality homes for fair rents in the town. This will help to meet the need for homes in Frome and provide stable and affordable homes for locals who have been left behind by the housing market, including young people who grew up in the town, those with local family and friends, carers and the cared for and those who work and contribute to the local community. 

However, initial plans for up to 30 new homes to be built across the town were withdrawn after the project heard the feedback of residents who were concerned about the potential loss of green space. 

Social housing vs green space is an ongoing debate across the country. The need for more affordable homes for the millions impacted by the housing crisis is clear, but how can we provide secure and stable homes for these people without impacting on green spaces? 

How do we make the choice between providing homes for those living in overcrowded, unaffordable and unsuitable conditions, and saving our green spaces? What’s the priority? 

The feedback from residents in Frome in response to the proposals to build 30 new homes in the town, showed support for the ambition to build more social homes in Frome. Yet residents felt the proposed sites and green spaces were too precious to be used for the purpose of affordable homes. 

With the initial proposed sites withdrawn, the project is pushing ahead and continuing to try to improve the supply of much-needed social housing in Frome, and will work with local councillors, community groups, and local residents to locate suitable spaces for these new homes. But there’s no doubt that tough choices will need to be made as we work towards ensuring that everyone in Frome, and across the country, has a suitable home to live in. 

Perhaps the only solution to this debate is compromise. Going forward, we must strike a balance between protecting our precious green spaces while ensuring everyone, across the country, has a safe, secure and affordable place to call home.