Why does Shropshire need affordable housing?
We talk to Professor Mark Barrow, Executive Director of Place at Shropshire Council, about affordable housing in Shropshire.
What is RHRP and why was it set up?
Right Home, Right Place is a council-led housing initiative that was set up to identify unmet housing needs across Shropshire.
The current housing market doesn’t offer everything we need it to, so we exist to fill any gaps that the open market can’t accommodate, and address those needs ourselves.
Right Home, Right Place is made up of small team of planning policy officers and works in tandem with our main housing divisions.
What kind of housing needs does RHRP address?
We address everything between social housing and the open market, covering every type of affordable housing.
That could include shared ownership schemes, affordable rental properties, self-build homes, assisted living and community-led housing schemes; whatever it is that local communities need.
Is affordable housing the same thing as social housing?
No. Affordable housing refers to homes for sale and rent for lower or middle-income households, that are provided above the social rent but below market levels – and with a range of different ownership options available.
Social housing is accommodation that’s owned by local authorities or housing associations, provided for rent at reduced rates for people on low incomes or with particular needs – such as those with specific medical needs, the elderly, people threatened with homelessness or single parents.
How do you identify where the greatest needs are?
We run surveys in every parish across Shropshire, apart from Telford & Wrekin, to find out people’s needs.
Our surveys are sent to households or available to complete online, and they’re instrumental in giving us a clear picture of the type of housing needed, and where it’s needed most.
What factors are driving the need for more affordable housing in Shropshire?
There are several different factors, but a significant need comes from the disparity between the average house value and the average wage.
Bishops Castle, for example, is the most expensive part of the county to buy a house – and the ratio of house price to salary is 11:2, which makes it very difficult for local people to stay and settle in the area.
Across the county, the average age of a first-time buyer is aged 38, and the average property value for first time buyers is £173,000; that gives you an indication of how difficult it is to get onto the property ladder.
But if we can drop that entry requirement and enable first-time buyers to go into a shared ownership scheme with a 20% ownership, they can progressively build up ownership throughout their lifetime and buying a home becomes much more accessible.
How does housing need impact on local businesses?
Well, we currently have record employment levels – which is fantastic – but there’s a challenge for local businesses in terms of attracting and retaining staff.
For example, there are several large employers in Ludlow, but it’s very difficult for someone on a shop floor wage to afford to live in Ludlow, as lovely as it is.
That’s why we also survey staff across some of the county’s larger employers to make sure we’re able to identify and address their needs.
What are some of the housing challenges facing older residents?
This is a major area of focus for us. 33% of Shropshire will be aged over 65 by 2030 – in the south of the county, that figure rises to 45%.
There’s a growing awareness that lots of older people are living in former family homes that are now too large to maintain or inadequate for their needs, but there aren’t enough options for them to downsize.
Housebuilders say it isn’t viable for them to build the small bungalows older people need, so we have to find a way to address that need ourselves.
Many older people are capital rich but revenue poor, and fuel poverty is also a big issue – statistically, if you’re over 80 and you live alone in a thermally poor house, you have more than an 80% of being in hospital.
We often hear older people described in terms of a cost pressure on the care system, but what’s rarely recognised is the significant contribution people make to their communities in retirement.
Things like volunteering, community activities and church support are a vital part of what makes communities vibrant.
What about affordable housing in towns?
As part of our affordable housing initiative, we’re also targeting disused buildings like old pubs and buildings on the High Street.
We’re especially focussed on buildings which have been empty for over 10 years and have questionable ownership, as well as buildings which people view as a ‘blot on the landscape’.
We’re doing everything we can to try and get hold of these properties and repurpose them for dwellings and commercial spaces.