Right to Buy – The challenge for rural communities

This year’s Rural Housing Week threatens to be overshadowed by a policy that could see significant reductions in the number of affordable homes in rural communities – the extension of Right to Buy to properties owned by Housing Associations.
Right to Buy proves to be a particular problem for rural communities, where the majority of social housing tends to be houses rather than flats. We know that houses are more attractive to tenants; in fact CLG data shows that only 20% of homes sold under the RTB from 1986 to 2014 were flats. This increased uptake of Right to Buy in rural areas is largely responsible for the fact that only 12% of housing in rural communities is social housing, compared to 19% in urban communities.

The latest proposal for the extension of Right to Buy also comes at a time when the government has strangled the supply of new affordable homes in rural areas by saying that developers are no longer required to provide affordable housing on sites of less than 10 homes – sites which make up 50-60% of development in rural areas.

Taken together this means more homes sold and fewer being built to replace them.

This isn’t just going to affect those in need of homes, but will also make it even harder to move home to as a result of the Bedroom Tax, to move for work or for social reasons.

On top of the challenges facing rural communities generally, there are specific problems about implementing Right to Buy on Rural Exception Sites – sites where planning permission has been granted with the understanding that the homes will be held in perpetuity for people from the local area. If Right to Buy is brought in for these sites, the homes could be bought by their tenants and then sold on the open market to anyone, breaking that local connection. This could impact local development in two ways:

  • Landowners may stop making land available at an affordable price if they think someone else is going to make a big profit on the home in the future or if they think that the home will not be protected for people with a connection to the community
  • Local people will lose confidence in housing associations and no longer want us to develop in the area if we cannot guarantee that the homes will be held for people with a local connection to the village

This could see the amount of development in small rural communities shrink, making the already chronic shortage of affordable homes even worse.

The Government has claimed that homes bought under Right to Buy will be replaced – something which has been promised in the past but never achieved. Under the Government’s plans, these homes will be partially funded by local authorities selling their most valuable properties when they have the opportunity. However, in the areas where Hastoe operates, only 43% of Local Authorities own their own council houses – so where is the money to replace homes sold under Right to Buy going to come from?

Extending Right to Buy to Housing Associations and to those operating in rural communities in particular is going to devastate England’s already dwindling social housing stock and is going to see more and more families with nowhere to live for generations to come. At a time when we more home building, more affordable homes and more affordable rents, extending the Right to Buy looks to be in direct opposition for to all those aims. Hastoe have been and will continue to campaign for the government to rethink their position.

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