Affordable Housing

Finding out what you can do… and how to do it

It can be difficult to know where to start when seeking affordable housing for your community.  Ten steps to delivering affordable homes on a Rural Exception Site will help you understand the process you need to go through – which will be very similar whichever rural area you live in. You might also like to consider community led housing which can deliver housing through, for example, a Community Land Trust.

Community Led Planning (CLP) is another way that everyone can participate in the running and growth of rural communities.

This list of completed affordable housing schemes (Oct2019) shows some of the rural schemes that have been developed as a result of our local housing needs surveys and the work of the Rural Housing Enabler.

What is affordable housing?

It is housing provided for people on lower incomes who are unable to meet their housing needs in the general housing market.  Affordable rented housing is usually owned by a housing association and rented at a weekly rate affordable to people on low incomes.

Shared ownership homes are partly purchased by the resident and partly owned by a housing association. You pay rent on the part owned by the housing association.  Housing associations are able to provide the housing at affordable levels as they can often receive grant funding towards the development costs.

What are the benefits of rural affordable housing?

Affordable housing can make a huge contribution to a rural parish as it not only meets the housing needs of local people but can help maintain local services and amenities such as a local school, village shop or post office. It may also help maintain the social balance and social networks within the parish.

How does shared ownership work?

Shared ownership housing allows residents to part own and part rent their home. A deposit and mortgage is required for the share to be purchased (usually starting at 50%) and subsidised rent is paid on the remaining share. Rural shared ownership homes are retained for local people as outright purchase is not permitted.

What is a Section 106 Agreement?

A Section 106 Agreement is a list of planning conditions that must be fulfilled by a developer. For rural schemes the Section 106 Agreement will include clauses to retain the houses for local people and keep them affordable in perpetuity.

Where can affordable housing be located?

Most affordable housing developed in rural parishes is located on Rural Exception Sites. These are sites within or adjacent to the boundary of a settlement where market housing would not normally be acceptable. Residential development is permitted on these sites as an exception to planning policy though all the usual planning criteria must be met. The housing must be affordable housing for local people and remain so in perpetuity.  All potential sites within and around a settlement would be considered in order to find the best site.  Developing an Exception Site does not set a precedent for other building.

Is there a minimum size for an affordable housing scheme?

An affordable housing scheme needs to be affordable to the occupiers so the build costs must be reasonable. This can usually only be achieved through the economies of scale of at least five homes being built at one time. It may be possible to have a larger scheme split between two sites but the viability of this will depend on the nature of the sites and any required infrastructure works.

How much will be paid for the land?

Exception Sites have a unique land value that is between agricultural values and ‘hope’ value. The price agreed for the land is important to ensure that the housing to be provided is affordable. One of our aims is to have a consistent approach to Exception Site land values to ensure that rural housing schemes are viable and affordable. This will generally be in the region of £10,000 per plot dependant upon site constraints.

How long before the homes are built?

There are many stages in developing an affordable housing scheme, of which the housing needs survey is just the start. Each community and each site is different and any number of factors can influence the timescales including the number of plots available, how much infrastructure work is required, the funding and whether there is any opposition to the site. Typically a local affordable scheme could take in the region of five years to bring forward.

How many and what type of affordable housing will be built?

Local evidence, including a housing needs survey and information from the housing waiting list, will indicate the number and type of affordable homes that are required in each parish. A proposal would be drawn up individually for each parish based on the identified local needs.  In some circumstances local market housing can also be provided.

What standard will the new homes be built to?

Housing association homes are built to a very high standard and are carefully designed so they fit in with nearby homes. There are specific design and quality standards that must be met by housing associations who acquire funding for a project from Homes England. At the top of this page you will see a link to examples of affordable housing schemes in Warwickshire.

Who will be allocated the new homes?

The homes are allocated through the local Borough / District Council and the relevant housing association. They will decide who is in the greatest need out of those who have a local connection and have expressed an interest in the new homes.  It is important that the parish council understands the nomination process to be able to advise local people but neither the  parish council or landowner are involved in the selection process.  Verification of local connection is undertaken by the housing association.

Will the homes will go to local people?

The Section 106 Agreement will state that affordable housing must be retained for local people and this is legally binding to the housing association and local authority. Potential residents will have to qualify as being local, as set out in defined criteria, to be nominated for a property.  If potential residents cannot be found within the local parish homes may be offered to people from immediately neighbouring parishes. Each local authority will have its own arrangements.  The Section 106 Agreement ensures that all future lettings and/or sales have to meet the same local connection criteria as when the homes were first built.

What is meant by local people?

The local connection criteria will be laid out in the Section 106 Agreement.
Each local authority will have its own definition of local people and may include some of the following:

  • currently ordinarily resident in the parish
  • previously ordinarily resident in the parish
  • a need to live in the parish by reason of current employment (minimum hours may apply) or a need to move to take up permanent employment
  • a need to reside in the parish either to support or to be supported by another member of the family who ordinarily resides in the parish
  • born in the parish

A local authority may also require that certain time periods apply to some of the criteria.

Can affordable homes be built on greenfield sites?

There are planning regulations in place to allow greenfield development under certain circumstances and providing the following criteria are in place:

  • the parish council supports the development
  • it will be kept affordable for local people
  • it is supported by up-to-date evidence, such as a current housing needs survey

Even if these criteria are in place the planning application will be subject to approval from planners in a number of other ways, including highways, services (water, electric, gas), ecology, archaeology and impact on open countryside.

Will the parish have to fund the survey or an affordable homes scheme?

The only cost to the community is in shoe-leather, ensuring that one survey pack is delivered to each dwelling across the parish (which some communities manage alongside delivery of a parish newsletter or similar). The parish is not required to make a financial contribution to the scheme although some choose to donate land or sell it at a reduced rate.

Why is a housing needs survey required when there is already a housing waiting list?

The local authority housing waiting list generally only registers households who are looking for properties to rent and many people who live in rural areas believe that affordable housing will never be built in their area so do not apply to the local housing waiting list. Housing needs surveys consider all types of housing, from rent to self-build.  A survey is also an opportunity to consult with the local community and may help in land coming forward.

What is involved in undertaking a housing needs survey?

The Rural Housing Enabler helps the local parish or town council undertake a survey of the parish to establish the unique needs of that particular rural community. A standard questionnaire is used in order to ensure the robust validity of the results and is delivered to every home across the parish. A Freepost envelope makes it easy to return the completed survey form directly and confidentially to the Enabler, or the survey can be completed online. The questionnaire is also suitable for local people who have moved away to find a home but want to return to the local area.  Returned forms are analysed and an anonymised report provided to the parish/town council.  Returned survey forms are kept securely for a short period before being shredded.