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Frome in ‘desperate’ need of affordable smaller homes Fair Housing for Frome release findings from the 2021 Housing Needs Survey

HOUSES being built or coming up for sale in Frome are ‘not affordable’ for the majority of Frome residents, as there is a ‘desperate’ need for ‘genuinely affordable’ smaller houses. These are the findings of Fair Housing for Frome’s major town-wide ‘Housing Needs Survey’, which was carried out in 2021 with support from Frome Town Council, Mendip District Council and Frome Area Community Land Trust. 

The local non-profit community organisation says that Frome ‘desperately’ needs one or two bedroom houses – with current non-homeowners citing low income, coupled with a lack of supply of suitable properties to buy, as the main barrier to them getting on the property ladder.

And with over 85% of respondents to the survey wanting a smaller dwelling of up to two bedrooms, Fair Housing for Frome has said that large four/five bedroom houses proposed by developers are ‘not really required’ by those living in Frome.

Coupled with this, the survey says that because of recent positive national press about Frome, and the post Covid ‘Work from Home’ trend, living in rural towns such as Frome has become more appealing. As a result, they say, the gap between ‘genuinely affordable housing’ and what the government determines as affordable is ‘getting bigger every year’ in Frome.

It is hoped that the results of the survey will be adopted and form part of housing development policies. “Shaping the future for housing developments,” say Fair Housing for Frome, “homes that local people actually want rather than what developers want.” 

Fair Housing for Frome said, “The survey was instigated following feedback from Frome residents, but, like so many projects, was delayed by Covid restrictions, which also reduced the group’s ability to get out and about and talk directly to residents.

“Fair Housing for Frome has long been aware that there were multiple issues with the number and types of homes being built in and around the town. The nationwide housing crisis shows no real sign of improvement, yet developers, using the mass of resources at their disposal, mostly refer back to national surveys, using these to build the types of new homes that we have seen being constructed for decades. 

“Whilst these new homes work for some, there was a strong view that what is being built does not appear to address the needs of local people. What was needed was hard data, data that was accredited and independent. Fair Housing for Frome commissioned Smart Communities, part of the Community Council for Somerset to manage the survey and analyse the results.”

Findings

About the results of the survey, Fair Housing for Frome reports, “When Fair Housing for Frome started this project they already had a good idea of the demographic of people who were desperate for housing in Frome. The organisation is very active on social media and had taken a great deal of interest in the conversations that periodically start up regarding the availability of housing in the area. 

“With the group also managing the Frome Housing Noticeboard – a forum for renters on Facebook – they were acutely aware of the pressures in certain sectors of the market. This is most evident on the rental sector where the town has seen the cost of renting increase continually over the last few years.

“At the time of the survey there were 661 applications for homes in Frome on Homefinder Somerset, this is what we used to call the ‘housing waiting list’. Of those on the list, nearly 80% required a one or two- bedroom dwelling.

“The findings of the survey echoes this desire with over 85% wanting a smaller dwelling of up to two bedrooms. In additional to this, 25% of those who responded indicated a strong need for affordable housing. The term ‘affordable housing’ basically means local authority or housing association homes or those provided by community land trusts.

“These statistics alone begin to paint a picture of the size and type of house that is needed. The large four/five bedroom houses currently being proposed by developers are not really required by those living in Frome.

“Further analysis of the results also helps us to understand the local housing needs. If we analyse earnings against house prices in Mendip, it becomes clear that Mendip has the highest disparity in Somerset and house prices in Frome are in the higher brackets when compared to house prices in Mendip. Therefore, houses being built or coming up for sale in Frome are just not affordable for the majority of Frome residents who might be looking to purchase.

“At this point it is worth highlighting the difference between genuinely affordable housing and what the government determines as affordable. It is clear that in Frome, the gap between these two is wide. Unfortunately, this gap is getting bigger every year especially with the positive image Frome has in the national press and the post Covid ‘Work from Home’ trend which makes living in rural towns more appealing. 

“The survey, showing that affordability of property to rent or buy is the largest barrier for most non-homeowners, was highlighted by 66% of those surveyed. What is worrying is that over 25% of respondents felt they needed to move as they can no longer afford the rent where they are currently living. 20% of respondents share with friends or family for this very reason.

“It’s become apparent to respondents that the Homefinder Somerset waiting list doesn’t provide a solution to their housing needs, and it’s clear to see why. With 661 households, and growing, on the list and 45 of them in gold (high priority) band, there are currently no properties to bid for in Frome.

“Nearly half the respondents plan to move within a 5-year period and of these 40% require a two bedroom house and 33%, a three bedroom house. Many older respondents expressed a desire to downsize from family-sized homes to smaller dwellings. 

“For current non-homeowners low income is the main barrier, coupled with a lack of supply of suitable properties to rent or buy. It is pretty clear that we desperately need genuinely affordable one or two bedroom homes. Both old and young alike are in need of these houses going forward. Fair Housing for Frome will be pushing developers to provide the type of houses that residents want, not what the developers want – People before Profit has to be the way forward.”

Comments about the findings

About the results of the survey, Frome Town Council’s community development manager, Kate Hellard, said, “We welcomed the Housing Needs Survey – this is another tool which helps us understand the needs of our community. There are many things which make up the fabric of the town, but housing and employment are two of the most critical to ensuring the long-term sustainability of our town.

“We were expecting to hear from the younger generations in the town, those looking to move out from living with friends and parents and get onto the housing ladder, but many of the responses were from older residents looking to downsize. This was surprising and unexpected but actually makes a lot of sense, as these residents looking to move will enable larger properties to become available for a different age demographic.

“The Housing Needs Survey provides us with valuable data which we can use with other data coming through in the next 6 -12 months such as the census and health and wellbeing data. We can then build a picture, in layers, as to what is really happening and pinpoint areas where extra focus is required for a specific demographic.” 

Chair of Frome Area Community Land Trust, Roger Saunders, said, “The Housing Needs Survey report vindicates Frome Area Community Land Trust (FACLT), in our view, that the current model of housing provision is broken.  

“A significant number of local Frome people are in dire housing need. The 661 households on the housing register seeking social housing in Frome is evidence of this – and this number is just the tip of the iceberg, since many understandably don’t bother to register.

“The survey illustrates how the current policy and funding framework has failed pitifully to provide anything like the quantity and quality of social rented housing needed. FACLT is part of a national movement demonstrating another approach – community-led, genuinely affordable new homes designed and built to meet local needs that remain socially rented in perpetuity. We hope that the survey will prompt even more local people to join us in making this dream a reality.”

The way forward 

Chair of Fair Housing for Frome, Andy Jones said, “It’s taken time for the survey and results to be finalised, especially with the constraints of the pandemic, but we now have hard data behind the issues that we need to work on. Fair Housing for Frome will continue to facilitate the work of the Social Housing Group which is made up from our elected representatives across the area to ensure that new Social Housing needs get the priority it needs. Initially, this sits with Mendip District Council as the planning authority, but also through the transition, to the unitary authority in 2022/23.

“We will use this data to inform our responses to local planning applications and initiatives from FACLT and other service providers. We’ll also keep working on wider issues related to preventing homelessness and our ongoing goal: “to work with the people of Frome and the surrounding areas, particularly those on low incomes, to enable them to live in a genuinely affordable and decent quality home that promotes their health and wellbeing.”

A summary of the Housing Needs Survey is now available on the Fair Housing for Frome website: https://fairhousingforfrome.org.uk  

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