Housing crisis: How the high cost of housing is forcing families out of villages
- Credit: Sarah Beales
A Suffolk mum said she had to leave the Suffolk village where her family had laid down roots as they were priced out of the property market - a story that is repeated in rural communities across the county.
Sarah Beales, 36, and her family moved out of Elmswell to nearby Woolpit, in Mid Suffolk, in order to be able to buy a bigger home that could meet their needs.
Her and husband David have a combined average income of £50,000, but to buy somewhere bigger in the village where they were settled was to prove unachievable.
Sarah, whose children are aged three and six, said: “To get to the next stage we needed to find probably another £100,000, probably a bit more. We thought ‘we just cannot do it.’
“Anything that was rundown went straight to a developer or builder or the property was completely over-priced because it was an up-and-coming village.”
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She continued: “I understand there are people who are worse off, but it’s a shame when you put roots down somewhere and you are unable to stay.”
For those trying to get onto the first step of the housing ladder, its an ambition that can seem unattainable.
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Matt Reason, 27, a telecoms field engineer, and his wife Charlotte, also 27, a solicitor, are renting in Stowmarket while they try to save the money needed to own their first home. The couple have a combined income of under £55,000.
Matt said: “Getting on the property ladder in Stowmarket is tough. The rental market is not cheap and seems to climb every year, with council tax and bills constantly climbing as well - the only thing that doesn’t go up is everyone’s wages, making saving even harder.
“We are lucky enough that we can save and hope to have a house within two years. Looking at property prices around Stowmarket makes scary reading though, recently some prices seem to have stopped soaring, but there is a real fear that in two years, if prices keep going up, we still won’t have enough. Renting feels like throwing money away.
“We need more houses to be built in order to halt climbing prices and to make the rental market more competitive as well.”
The housing crisis
Over-development is a concern for many in areas like Mid Suffolk, that is facing dozens of speculative planning applications from developers, but for some just trying to purchase that first home or upgrade to a bigger property seems an unrealistic dream.
Monica Burns, head of member relations at the National Housing Federation, said on average house prices were 8.3 times the salary needed to buy a home and in rural areas only 8% of the housing stock is affordable.
In Suffolk the average price of a property is £293,960 this month, according to Zoopla.
Ms Burns said. “There’s a big issue around affordability and it’s generally younger people getting forced out of these villages. It’s the whole future of these villages at stake.”
She said historically urban areas have more affordable housing and rural areas are also popular with people who are retiring, which pushes prices up.
She said for young people trying to buy their first home it is “particularly problematic” in rural areas.
“There are Government schemes. There is Help to Buy etc and shared ownership and they are playing a role and helping a little bit, but because of this ratio of high house prices to low income it’s a particular issue in rural areas.”
Earlier this year the Government announced £2billion of new money would go into social housing and the Prime Minister made a long-term commitment to fund new affordable homes.
What can councils do?
Jill Wilshaw, cabinet member for housing at Mid Suffolk District Council, said the council was doing all that it could to ensure there were enough homes, and affordable homes.
“The problem is wages are so low and the cost of housing is so high in Suffolk. That’s the major problem.
“I sympathise with them [young families and first-time buyers]. We are desperately trying to get people to build so we can keep families in villages and keep the villages going.”
She said the council wants developers to include 35% affordable homes in their proposals, but “they say it’s not financially viable for us to do that so we knock it down a bit”.
“It’s just a big headache,” she added. “I can see it from both the developer’s point of view and our point of view.”
She claimed developers were sitting on plans that are approved as they are waiting for prices to go up, adding “nobody is building”.
In a recent appeal decision over a development in Woolpit, the planning inspector had not been convinced Mid Suffolk could demonstrate a five-year supply of housing, but the council believes it meets this target.
The developer’s view
Pete Redfern, chief executive of leading home builder Taylor Wimpey, said in a report on sustainability: “One of the most significant challenges facing the UK is the shortage of affordable housing.
“We support efforts to tackle this challenge through the homes we build and by making these accessible for a range of buyers.
“We increased the overall number of homes completed in the UK to 14,541 in 2017, up by nearly 5% in comparison to last year .
“Around 41% of our homes were sold to first-time buyers. We also made a significant contribution to increasing the UK’s stock of affordable housing with around 19% of completions designated affordable.”
What is affordable housing?
The Government defines affordable housing in its revised National Planning Policy Framework that was published in July this year.
It says it is housing for sale or rent for those whose needs are not met by the market and includes housing that provides a subsidised route to home ownership and/or is for essential local workers.
For the full definition see here.