The Commission for the Protection of Rural England points to a surge in rural homelessness, laying blame on the government’s failure to address the issue of affordable housing. The crisis is further compounded by factors such as escalating house prices, stagnating wages, and a notable increase in second homes and short-term rentals, according to the commission’s comprehensive report.
As high property prices make homeownership unattainable for many, the rural areas experience a housing crisis, with the situation exacerbated by economic challenges, particularly stagnant wage growth. The influx of second homes and the rise of short-term lets contribute to the scarcity of available housing, intensifying the struggle for affordable and stable accommodations in rural communities.
The charity’s report sheds light on a troubling reality in the countryside, witnessing a 40% surge in homelessness over the past five years. This distressing trend not only impacts individuals but also contributes to a significant drain on skills, economic vitality, and crucial public services within rural communities. The charity underscores the profound disparity between soaring rural house prices, surpassing those in other regions, and relatively lower rural wages, resulting in an ever-widening affordability gap.
Their findings reveal a stark contrast in the five-year period leading up to 2022, where rural house prices increased nearly twice as fast as those in urban areas, soaring by 29%. The average cost of a home in the countryside now stands at £419,000, while rural earnings experienced a more modest 19% increase, reaching a total of £25,600. This economic misalignment poses a substantial challenge, intensifying the housing crisis and impacting the overall well-being of rural communities.
The report highlights a concerning reality, with over 300,000 individuals awaiting social rented housing in rural England—an increase of over 10% since 2018. At the current construction pace, it would take an astonishing 89 years to provide homes for everyone on the waiting list. The issue is compounded by current planning policies, allowing the construction of so-called ‘affordable’ housing, which can still cost up to 80% of the market value, rendering them far from genuinely affordable. Moreover, local authorities struggle to replenish social housing at a rate equivalent to properties sold under the Right to Buy policy, resulting in a severe shortage for those in urgent need.
In Cornwall, a glaring example, with over 15,000 families awaiting social housing, the number of properties available for short-term lets surged by a staggering 661% in the five years leading up to 2021. This growth in short-term lets exacerbates the housing challenge, further limiting options for those seeking stable, long-term accommodation in the region.
In South Lakeland, it’s disclosed that local properties exclusively available as holiday rentals could potentially accommodate half of the families on social housing waiting lists. This revelation sheds light on the significant impact of short-term rentals on housing availability for those in need. Similarly, Devon has experienced a considerable shift, with 4,000 homes withdrawn from the private rental market and replaced by 11,000 new short-term listings since 2016. This trend signifies a broader challenge in maintaining stable long-term housing options.
CPRE’s chief executive, Roger Mortlock, underscores the pressing need for action, highlighting that decades of inaction have fueled an affordable housing crisis affecting rural communities. The proposed solutions involve setting and achieving ambitious targets for genuinely affordable and social rented rural housing. Additionally, curbing the surge in second homes and short-term lets is deemed crucial to preserving the vitality of these communities. Mortlock emphasizes the urgency, stating that unless addressed promptly, rural areas risk becoming unaffordable, leading to the departure of essential individuals and a decline in vibrancy.
The CPRE recommends:
- Redefining ‘affordable housing’ to directly link to average local incomes;
- Increasing the minimum amount of genuinely affordable housing required by national planning policy and implement ambitious targets for the construction of social rented homes;
- Supporting local communities to deliver small-scale developments of genuinely affordable housing and make it easier for councils to purchase land at reasonable prices, enabling the construction of social housing and vital infrastructure;
- Introducing a register of second homes and short-term lets, with new powers for local authorities to levy additional council tax on second homes;
- Extending restrictions on the resale of ‘affordable housing’ to all parishes with fewer than 3,000 inhabitants to ensure local workers can continue to use properties, rather then allowing them to become second homes or holiday lets.