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The Housing Crisis in Rural Areas

The Housing Crisis in Rural Areas

Most people have heard about, and been upset by the tragedy of the Grenfell Tower fire in London, but to many, living in rural Devon, it may have seemed remote. Local MPs have been silent on the issue; yet, the failures that led to this terrible event are relevant to everyone. We are in the midst of a housing crisis that is not just urban; rural social housing provision is just as vital - if not more so. Social housing, in particular, has come to be seen negatively, as a problem! We need to change this; social housing that we are proud of, should be available for all in our community – it should be seen to be a real asset, not a burden on the community.

Research published in July this year (Right to home? Rethinking homelessness in rural communities IPPR) exposes a hidden crisis of rural homelessness, which is getting worse. Over 6,000 rural households became homeless last year and record numbers of rural families are in B & Bs. Between 2010 and 2016 there was a 42% increase in rough sleeping in predominantly rural local authorities and people have been experiencing difficulties in accessing the services and the support they need. These figures hide personal tragedies that do not make headlines.

The failures of provision of good affordable housing in our own communities will be the same or similar to those that contributed to the Grenfell tragedy. They exist, not just in relation to cladding and insulation, but also to the wider issues of stigmatisation, under-investment, lack of quality control and technical checks - failures of regulation, accountability and oversight, and cuts to technical expertise within social housing organisations. The government has starved local authorities and housing providers of the resources to do a safe, proper job and has left the building of houses largely to profit-driven developers.

Building homes should not be driven by profit. We need policy and resources to be directed at supporting a range of organisations including local authorities, not-for-profit housing associations and housing co-operatives that can build houses appropriate to their communities and localities. We need a commitment to the building good, safe, warm, dry homes that are fit for purpose and built to high ecological standards. This also requires clear accountability with housing organisations that have access to the technical expertise that can ensure and monitor quality control.

Land in the hands of District or County Councils should be made available for small scale rural housing projects where deemed appropriate. Funds for purchase of land and for capital investment in housing should be made available by the government’s Homes and Communities Agency and all such provision should be tied to local systems of control - through Community Land Trusts, Co-operative initiatives or similar arrangements.

Above all the government should be listening to people, including local communities and most especially residents and tenants and those in housing need.

Central Devon Labour Party – Ruth Dixon & Lisa Robillard Webb (centraldevonlabour@gmail.com)

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