If there was ever a word that seemed like a goalpost that just won’t stay still, particularly right now, it’s ‘affordable’. What might be affordable to one person is out of reach for another but even more fluid than that, you might not be able to afford something that you could this time last year, or even last month.
So when we talk about affordable housing, what do we mean? The common definition according to government guidelines is linked to market prices (on the assumption presumably that the market wouldn’t leave as many people behind as it appears to have done). The government sets out affordable house buying rates as being ‘at least 20% below market rate’. It’s a fact that 80% of the market rate for a decent home is still way off limits for so many people.
Similarly, anyone looking at the current market rent could be forgiven for thinking that even a 20% reduction, which would fall into government guidelines of ‘affordable rent’ is more than a bit steep. Recently a new term Genuinely Affordable has hit our consciousness and it’s used more now that ‘affordable’ is becoming a misnomer.
The only affordable housing linked to local earnings is ‘social rent’ another term which many people would find hard to define. Because it’s linked to local earnings it is considered genuinely affordable and the resulting rents are 50-60% of market rent. Social rent should aim to be less than 30% of local lowest incomes.
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) says housing affordability has fallen to its lowest since 1999. Nationally, the picture in 2020 was that a typical full-time worker would have to spend nearly 8 times their salary to buy a home. It rose sharply to over 9 times their salary in 2021 and in Mendip the figure was even higher at over 11. This is higher than neighbouring districts, other than BaNES.
If developers want to build more houses in Frome, they should follow the guidelines of the Local Plan to get their planning applications approved. Mendip District Council has a policy that 30% of any new development must be affordable here. But costs that affect house prices are climbing faster than wages can hope to keep pace with so the word affordable is becoming even less of a boast for traditional developers.
You might be wondering if there is an alternative to standard house builders driving development in Frome. Frome Area Community Land Trust is looking for land to build affordable and genuinely affordable housing for local people in housing need. A community-led approach to housing puts local people first, particularly those who would be priced out of the area under standard policies.