Rural homelessness reaches crisis point

United Kingdom – Homelessness is rising at a faster rate in the countryside than in towns and cities, the government’s rural watchdog warned today.

In its annual state of the countryside report, the Countryside Agency warned of a growing housing crisis in rural areas.

It found that thousand of people on lower incomes are being priced out of villages by rising house prices. It also warned that the same people have less chance of accessing social housing because the number of new affordable homes built in rural areas is failing to keep pace with the number lost through the right to buy.

The rate of homelessness in rural areas is almost half that of towns, the report found. But it warned that in remote areas homelessness is rising faster. Between 1999 and 2003, there was a 29.4% rise in the number of homeless households in remote rural areas, at a time when urban homelessness grew by 21.2%.

The agency also found that only 13% of the housing stock in rural areas is social housing, compared with 22% in urban districts. But it suggested that the need for affordable homes was greater in the countryside because rural wages are on average 9% lower than urban wages.

The agency added that 37% of the rural population spend more than half of their incomes on mortgages compared to 26% of the urban population. And it pointed out that since 2002, house prices have been rising faster in the countryside than in towns and cities.

The agency warned that the rural housing problem means that many villages are becoming unsustainable enclaves for the rich only.

It said: “People on modest incomes are being priced out of many rural districts. This has implications for the maintenance of viable, inclusive rural communities, with some areas becoming increasingly exclusive, comprising only of wealthy households.

“The balances of communities is disrupted, families are separated, increased pressure is placed on many rural services, and the local economy may be forced into decline.”

The report found that the number of new affordable homes built in rural areas last year was 1,803. This was almost double the previous year’s total, but the report said this rate is still “insufficient to keep pace with the losses from the sale of homes under the right to buy”.

Source: The Guardian, Matt Weaver