Paul Deakin, Director at Rund Partnership, discusses the importance of of everyone in the built environment taking responsibility to deliver more affordable homes in the UK.
“Housing affordability has been a long-standing problem in England, and the Covid-19 pandemic has made the need for housing more important than ever. Whilst problems persist around the cost and quality of housing, it can never be taken for granted that a home is one of the most important factors that influence safety and provide a better quality of life. The pandemic, however, accentuated inequality in housing and living conditions, putting a greater focus on the impact that housing conditions can have on wellbeing, in both a physical and mental form.
“This is supported by ONS data from May 2020, which recognised a correlation between the levels of overcrowding in a given council area in England and the Covid-19 mortality rate. Data also showed higher mortality rates in the local authority areas with the highest number of homeless people living in temporary accommodation, and areas with most acute shortage of social housing. Further to this, research published by the National Housing Federation in June 2020, indicated that 31% of adults in England had experienced mental or physical health problems linked to the lack of space in their home or the condition of their living environments during lockdown. It also found that an estimated 3.7 million people were living in overcrowded homes over this period, including 1.6 million children, which are record levels.
“Through the pandemic, housebuilding fell in April-June 2020, reaching low levels similar to that of 2008. Although this rebounded in July-September of 2020, housing delivery is still significantly below the level needed for the country to provide substantial affordable homes to those in need. One of the major challenges facing housing associations is the pressure on the sector’s finances as they continue to work on building safety and prioritise the decarbonisation of existing homes partnered with the increasing cost of building new homes, of which in 2019-20 accounted for the delivery of 92 per cent of affordable homes.
“In England, there were a total of 57,644 affordable homes completed and 68,346 starts on site in 2019-20, which is an increase of 1% and 13% respectively when compared to the previous year. More than half (52%) of all affordable homes delivered in 2019-20 were funded through section 106 agreements, higher than in previous years. It is also fair to say, there have been notable efforts within the construction industry to increase the number of affordable homes developed on schemes. Many 100% affordable housing schemes have emerged over the last few years, rearing a historical trend of developers negotiating down affordable housing commitments.
“However in order to make progressive change, there is an overwhelming amount of work needed, along with the commitment of everyone across the industry to play their part in further encouraging the delivery of a diverse range of affordable housing tenures, supporting communities and helping buyers with differing needs. With council housing delivery and planning teams often facing significant skills and capacity challenges, at Rund, we are regularly appointed to bridge that gap and provide the skills and services needed to expedite the delivery of social housing.
“A recent project that helped unlock more opportunities for people to be housed in an increasingly popular area was the Freeks Farm scheme by Sage Housing in Burgess Hill. Backed by Homes England, the first phase of the scheme comprised of building 460 new homes, of which 237 are affordable housing, split between affordable rent and shared ownership tenures. Working as Employer’s Agent on the project, the Freeks Farm scheme is a great example of developers and housing providers going above and beyond the initial agreement. 138 of the 237 units were part of the original agreement, with Sage Housing committing to an additional 99 affordable homes.
“The development is also a key example of an affordable housing scheme that does not compromise quality for the cost of living. Every home is being built with stringent quality control procedures in place, with all homes being ‘tenure blind’ – meaning all affordable homes will be built to the same high standards as those destined for private sale. These are projects that we are always proud to be part of, supporting the delivery of high-quality affordable homes, for the betterment of local communities.”