Last week a public meeting was held at Frome Town Hall to explore the current housing situation in Frome.
Frome Area Community Land Trust have provided the following summary of the meeting.
Housing Crisis in Frome!
‘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.
FACLT(recently united with Fair Housing for Frome) recognises that Frome has been experiencing a housing crisis for some years, with spiralling rents and house prices, increasing homelessness, displacement and housing insecurity. They oversee the Frome Renting Alliance (supporting renters, landlords and lettings agents), the Frome Housing Noticeboard (an online forum to make it easier for anyone who is searching for, or advertising a place to rent, lodge or house-sit in Frome), and the developing Legacy Scheme (a legal structure by which residents may bequeath properties or cash to be used for local people in housing need). They 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.
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 their website www.fromeareaclt.org). 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 people 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.
Roger Saunders (FACLT director) called for people to come forward to support and help FACLT in their future research and their work 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; their first community led housing project might take a while to come to fruition and when it does, they won’t be stopping there! So they 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.