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Fair Housing campaign gets under way

Fair Housing for Frome (FHfF) has launched its one–year campaign to raise awareness of and find solutions to the housing crisis in Frome with a lively public meeting attended by more than 60 people.

The event which took place on 29th April was opened by the Mayor, cllr Toby Eliot, who described it as a wonderful model of community activism. “This is one of the most important issues facing our town,” he said.

“The people of Frome chose to fund it through the town council’s participatory budgeting process last month, and are now coming together to see what’s in their power to change. This is an example of what Frome does and the extraordinary way that it tackles problems. It’s good to see so many people here.”

The assembled crowd listened to four moving stories of local housing need. Jeanette and Dan are a young working couple who are leaving their home town because they can’t find stable affordable accommodation in Frome. Louise and her family are in the process of fitting out a van with beds for them and their three young children in case they can’t find a new rented home before their current tenancy expires.

Pete is paying £70 per week to share a bedroom with one of his mates rather than go back on the streets. James has spent the winter in a yurt with his two children aged 4 and 6 years, without running water or electricity. He is self-employed and has been turned down for a mortgage even though his parents will help him with the deposit.

It turned out that some of the people present at the meeting had equally harrowing stories to share. One woman who spoke up is fighting the eviction of her family just as her 18-year-old son is preparing for his A-levels.  Another mother spoke of having to go round to friends and beg them for something to eat because so much of the family’s money was being spent on their housing.

After this powerful beginning to the meeting, participants divided into six groups focusing on: homelessness, shared living, self build, tenants and landlords and housing policy. There was also a ‘What if?’ group looking at fresh ideas and approaches. After a tea break full of lively conversations, questions and suggestions were put to a panel of national and local housing experts.  Information stands were provided by Mendip District Council, Mendip Credit Union and Frome Co-Housing.

Some of the housing facts that emerged at the meeting:

• There are no council houses in Mendip any more: they were all given over to housing associations, who are now being encouraged to allow ‘right to buy’

• In 2016, Frome experienced a 14% rise in price houses – the third highest in the UK

• Mendip has an agreed target of ensuring that 145 ‘affordable homes’ are built each year in Frome, but only 130 were built in the four years 2012-15

• According to Mendip guidelines, 30% of all new homes should be ‘affordable’ – but there will be no affordable housing at all on the forthcoming Caxton Road development

• 24% of Mendip residents do not have enough income to rent private housing without some kind of subsidy

Many practical suggestions were made during the afternoon. These included: setting up a Frome-owned investment company that can buy and let properties at an affordable rent; developing an active Community Land Trust; recruiting and training up a team of volunteer advocates to support families in housing crisis; helping to develop a well-subscribed Fair Landlords scheme; creating shared living opportunities for younger people; and providing better information about what is already available.

Simon Keyes, who chaired the panel concluded, “The roots of our tragic housing problems lie in bad political decisions. We need politicians in Westminster who will put these right, so let’s make housing an issue in choosing our next Parliamentary candidate.”

Fair Housing for Frome would like to thank everyone who came, Frome Town Council for funding the event, and Rook Lane Chapel who generously offered their beautiful space free of charge.

The next meeting will take place on Monday 22nd May at Frome Town Hall  from 6-8pm. It’s free of charge and everyone is welcome. The main topic of the meeting will be Self Build. For more information and to join the mailing list visit www.fairhousingforfrome.org.uk.