Community Action Suffolk works with Parish Councils, local residents, housing associations, local councils and landowners to facilitate ways of meeting housing needs.
Sunila Osborne, Community Development Officer for Rural Affordable Housing, acts as the independent agent, smoothing the way between these parties.
The Rural Housing Project aims to increase the provision of affordable housing for local needs in villages throughout the county. To promote balanced communities where people aren’t excluded and don’t have to move away because there isn’t any suitable or affordable accommodation.
Housing need takes various forms, e.g. for older people, young people and families. Housing provision must meet both urban and rural needs to help maintain a balanced community, particularly in a predominantly rural county like Suffolk.
In recent years concern has grown over the future of village life, where communities have been threatened because, among other things, local families have been unable to compete for increasingly scarce and expensive housing. Although the lack of affordable housing in rural communities has been a serious problem for many decades it has recently reached crisis point in many parts of the country where house prices have outstripped average incomes by very large margins. High house prices, the loss of council houses through Right to Buy and restrictive planning policies has all played their part in worsening the situation.
The above problems have encouraged many communities across Suffolk to develop local housing needs schemes. These schemes are developed in partnership with Parish Councils, the District Council and a Housing Association. These small housing developments are kept for local people in perpetuity and affordable homes built on them can never be sold on the open market. A legal document is drawn up under section 106 of the Ufford 2010 (Hastoe) Town and Country Planning Act 1990 between the District Council and the Housing Association to ensure the houses are kept in perpetuity for local people and will state clearly who is eligible for housing in the new development. These restrictions do not affect any existing Council or housing association property in the parish, or any open market homes built on exception site schemes.
Local authorities may adopt policies which enable them to grant planning permission for sites adjoining the village development envelope which would not normally be released for housing, in order to provide affordable housing to meet local needs in perpetuity. These sites are known as “Rural Exception “sites and robust data, usually through a Local Housing Needs Survey must be submitted to support an “exception scheme”.
Any rural community, which is considering bringing forward a local housing needs scheme may therefore wish to undertake a local housing needs survey (HNS) to prove that a housing need exists in the village. The HNS captures information on all tenure types (affordable, open market, shared ownership etc.) and can also identify any hidden need within a village, i.e. people wishing to downsize, those that want to return or live in the village.
All households in the village will be given an opportunity to complete a survey form. There will be a section on the form allowing people to indicate if any family members have had to leave the village due to a lack of suitable accommodation and who would like to return if a local affordable housing scheme is developed.
Exception policy land is usually much cheaper than land where open market housing would normally be permitted, enabling the development of affordable housing. Guidance in the Local Authority’s planning policy will provide the criteria for such developments, including that the style and character of such housing should be in keeping with its surroundings and local building types.
Provided the scheme is protected by a Section 106 agreement, lettings will be restricted initially to people with a strong connection to the parish. The Section 106 will also include the names of abutting parishes to be included in the “cascade of eligible parishes” if there is no one left in need in the core parish. Each Local Authority will have it’s own definition of local need and local connection, but typically it would cover the following circumstances:
Local Affordable housing schemes can include different types of tenure to include:
From April 2011 most new homes for rent will be let as Affordable Rent tenancies. These are where rent charged at up to 80% of local open market rents.
This form of tenure is a popular alternative to renting for those people who cannot afford to buy outright on the open market but can afford to buy a proportion of the equity of their home. There are several types of shared ownership, and the most common is Restricted Shared Equity where the occupier initially has a minimum mortgage of 25% of the equity of a property and pays a rent to the Housing Association joint owner on the rest of the value of the property. As income allows occupants can “staircase” up and increase their share of the equity up to maximum of about 80%. This restriction on outright ownership ensures that the houses are never completely sold off and will remain available for local people in perpetuity.
With the introduction of the new National Planning Policy Framework in 2012 (NPPF) and changes in Government funding for affordable housing to Housing Associations, in relation to rural exception sites, planning authorities are encouraged to allow some market housing on Rural Exception sites. This is designed to facilitate the provision of additional affordable housing to meet local needs.
This can be of great assistance to the financial viability of bringing forward a local needs affordable housing scheme and at the same time meet additional forms of local housing need. A good example is highlighted in many parish housing needs surveys. These often show an increasing need for elderly households, currently living in owner occupied family type properties who wish to remain in the parish for support from family and friends and are unable to find suitable smaller open market properties for them to downsize to. The provision of a limited number of suitable open market homes on a rural exception site will help subsidise affordable housing on that site and meet an identified housing need in the local open market sector.
For further information, contact:
Sunila Osborne, Community Development Officer – Rural Affordable Housing
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