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What is affordable housing?

Affordable Housing provides homes for people who cannot afford to buy property that is readily available on the open market. It is particularly important in rural areas where house prices are often higher than average, but household incomes are lower.

There are several different types of affordable housing designed to meet the requirements of different types of households with varying incomes and needs:

  • Social Rented Housing – these are properties which are owned and managed by Local Authorities or Registered Providers (Housing Associations) and which are let at target rents controlled by Government. To qualify for a social rented home you must be registered with your local authority, and they will assess your housing need.
  • Affordable Rent – since July 2011 Affordable Rent (rather than Social Rent) has been applied to all new homes developed with Government funding provided through the Homes and Communities Agency. A property let on an Affordable Rent will be let at a rent of up to 80% of local private market rent, and the properties are allocated in the same way social rented properties are.
  • Affordable Home Ownership (sometimes called intermediate housing) – there are a number of different products that come under the government’s umbrella brand for affordable ownership, called HomeBuy. This is designed for those that can afford to pay more than housing association rents, but still cannot access the open market. These products include ‘shared ownership’ where a customer can part-buy and part-rent their home (the rent and mortgage combined costs less than a conventional mortgage), and ‘equity loans’ where a customer can buy with the assistance of an equity loan to top up what they can afford on their own. Some areas also offer ‘discounted sales’ which are homes sold by developers at a discount, typically up to 50% of market value and resold at the same discount.


Why do we need affordable housing in rural areas?

Opening ceremony of Ellingham affordable houses
 Norfolk RCC recently undertook a consultation on key rural issues with its members, rural forum members and local community groups. 83% identified affordable housing as an important or very important issue for their community.

Affordable housing is needed because there is a general shortage of available housing and local people often find themselves priced out of the market, forcing them to move away. The average house price to income ratio remains high in rural Norfolk with house prices being between 10.1 – 12.4 times the average salary .

The shortage of housing does not just affect those without a suitable property. It has negative consequences for the whole community. Critical rural services such as shops, pubs, or adult and child care often have wage rates where it would not be viable to commute long distances. Local affordable housing is, therefore vital to maintain these services in our communities.

How is affordable housing provided?

To address affordable housing needs there are essentially two options, either to build new homes or bring existing properties into affordable usage.

New homes:

  • The majority of housing developments are undertaken by private developers on sites allocated for housing development with the development boundaries of cities, towns and villages. On these sites an element of affordable housing will be provided through negotiation with the local authority. The affordable housing is then handed over to a housing association to manage. Local authorities usually ask for 30-40% of the homes developed on such sites to be affordable, depending on the size of the development. Households considered to be in the greatest housing need will be offered the properties on these developments first.
  • Exception sites – In small rural communities, affordable housing can also be developed on 'exception sites' that are located outside of the current development boundary of a village. Before 2012 the only type of housing development permitted on an exception site was affordable housing for local need. Recent national planning policy allows local authorities to consider allowing some market housing if it ‘facilitates the provision of significant additional affordable housing’. A section 106 Agreement, incorporating a Local Lettings Agreement, is attached to the planning application on an exceptions site development to ensure that the affordable homes will remain affordable and for local people in perpetuity. Any planning application for an exceptions site development must be supported by a demonstration of local housing need. The housing need data also identifies the type of affordable housing required by local people (house, bungalow etc); the tenure of affordable housing required by local people (social rent, shared ownership etc); and the size of affordable housing required by local people (2, 3 bedrooms etc).
  • Community-led Development and Community Right to Build – another opportunity for the development of new affordable houses for local people is through a community-led development, such as a Community Land Trust (CLT). A CLT is a non-profit, community-based organisation run by volunteers to develop housing, workspaces or other assets that may be required to address a need in their local area. The income stream generated from the assets is protected and used to benefit present and future generations within the community. A CLT will need to draw up an allocations policy, which may need to be agreed by the local authority, to determine that the houses they build go to people with a ‘local connection’. Another consideration for communities wishing to build their own affordable housing is the Community Right to Build, which is a new way for communities to deliver the development they want – be it homes, shops, businesses or facilities – where the development will be retained by the community for the community. It is an alternative to a traditional application for planning permission and has to have the agreement of more than 50 per cent of local people who vote through a community referendum.

Existing/empty properties:

In addition to building new affordable homes local authorities have to ensure that they make the most of existing housing stock. The National Planning Policy Framework requires local authorities to consider how they should deal with empty homes, which are a wasted resource in a time of housing need, and which also have an increasing negative effect on communities. By finding solutions to bring back into use privately owned empty properties the local community will benefit from an increasing stock of decent homes and more opportunities for affordable housing.

For more information on Community-led approaches to affordable housing and/or empty properties see the two NRCC pilot projects – Homes 2 Us and Relief Charity Housing – below.


NRCC Affordable Housing Project - Homes 2 Us  (completed March 2013)

Homes 2 Us was set up as a pilot project to look at affordable housing within the area of the AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty).  It is based on community management of empty properties as affordable homes. This was built on the successful Homes For Wells model, which uses second homes and empty properties as a low cost housing solution for key workers and people with a local connection, by offering a tenant finding service.

Initially every Parish Council and Town Council in the area was contacted to generally ascertain the views on affordable housing. After discussions and meetings with many of those who showed an initial interest, three communities (Cromer, Blakeney and Hunstanton) were identified at potential pilots

Phase 2 of the project provided support to these three areas to develop a Community Land Trust. All of these have explored the possibility of CLT development although at project end only Cromer has committed to developing this further and were seeking funding to set up a CLT organisation. The others are still considering the options and may develop this in 2013.

Should you require more information on this project please contact Barry Duffin.

Tel: 01362 698216

NRCC Affordable Housing Project - Relief Charity Housing

This project aims to develop community owned and managed affordable housing that will remain protected for local people. We want to work with poor and fuel charities (relief charities) that own land in Norfolk, within or just outside the village development envelope that could be suitable for affordable housing. Most parishes in Norfolk will hold some charity land, often known as the poor’s land or the poor’s allotment, which were set up to benefit the poor of the parish. Its current use might be as agricultural land, wasteland or similar, but we are happy to advise you on whether it could be suitable for housing. As a rough guide half an acre of land would be sufficient for around 4 - 5 dwellings, which could make a positive impact on a small community.

By using charity land, such schemes could boost the charity’s income through enhancing their assets, or the value of those assets, as well as benefiting the community through the provision of affordable housing. This in turn may also assist such charities to better fulfil their charitable purposes of helping the poor of the parish, something we understand many poor’s charities have found increasingly difficult since the creation of the welfare state.

Removing or reducing the land cost in a housing development could make the difference as to whether a scheme becomes viable or not, especially when there is no market housing to cross-subsidise the development.

Norfolk RCC is looking to work with enthusiastic charities and communities who have potential sites. If you would like to have a chat about the project, have information on local charity land or which to discuss affordable housing in your parish then please get in touch.
Tel: 01362 698216

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