New figures show that the number of social rental housing units under construction in Cornwall has fallen to its lowest level in five years.
Cornwall Council announced this week that it has delivered the second highest number of affordable housing units in the country in 2020/21 with 814 completed.
However, when those numbers are broken down, only ten of them were housing that would be available for social rent – described by the housing adviser as “the greatest need in Cornwall right now”.
In comparison, 469 have been classified as affordable rents – where they are made available at 80% of the current market rent rate.
Another 234 were shared properties, homes where people can apply for a mortgage for part of the property, then pay monthly rent for the rest and have the option of buying the property later.
There were also 47 units offered for middle rent and 54 were affordable units for ownership, sold at 80% of market value.
But while Cornwall was the second best local authority for the delivery of affordable housing in 2020/21, the total fell to its lowest level in five years – although this may have been an impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Cornish Housing Council Cabinet Member Olly Monk was honest in her assessment of the latest figures.
He said: “Even though the numbers show that we are one of the best performing authorities in the country, I am disappointed with them – 814 barely touches what we are trying to achieve.
“I won’t be happy until I’m at least two thousand. It illustrates how far we are behind where we need to be and how far we need to go to get to where we need to go.
“Overall there needs to be a lot more social rents, what I call social housing, it’s something that we’re looking at very carefully and looking to increase. Social housing is the greatest need in Cornwall right now.
One of the main issues is with the term affordable housing, which is used as a catch-all for a number of very different forms of housing.
The Affordable Housing Commission released a report in 2020 that called for a new definition of affordable housing, based on income and personal circumstances instead of using a percentage of market rates.
He said that many products called affordable housing “are clearly unaffordable for people with middle to lower incomes.”
Cllr Monk agrees that the term affordable housing is problematic: “Social housing is included as well as some open market housing that is reduced to allow key workers to move up the housing ladder.
“For some people, affordable means a house they can afford to buy with a mortgage, for others it is a house they can afford to rent. I wonder if it might not be better to disentangle the term affordable so that we are clear on what is provided.
“You’ll see people commenting every time there are stories about it, saying ‘Affordable for whom? What does that mean?’ I understand that, and it would be better to call it house of council or whatever to make it clearer. ”
For Dick Cole, head of Mebyon Kernow, more needs to be done to increase the amount of truly affordable housing provided in Cornwall.
“What Cornwall needs is more social housing because the affordable rent model of 80% of market rent is not affordable for many families in Cornwall.
“More government investment and changes in planning policy are needed to generate affordable and locally responsive housing in Cornwall.
“It was a big frustration for me – how the shift from social to affordable rent was made. I know people who aren’t even asking for affordable rental housing now because they know they can’t afford it.
Jayne Kirkham, leader of the Labor group at County Hall, said she appreciated that Cllr Monk was working hard to try to get more social housing in Cornwall, but said the latest figures showed a lot needs to be done more.
“It’s not really great, we have to do better than that. Affordable housing should be linked to local wages and income. We have been talking about it for a long, long time and the last administration had an idea for a living rent but which died of a death.
Cllr Kirkham said she was concerned that all of the council’s plans to meet the need for affordable housing would require more investment and funding.
“It’s hard to see where the funding will come from. They obviously work hard, but if they get the funding to do some of the things that they have proposed… it will require funding from the central government.
“I hope this will work because we desperately need to do it.”
However, Cllr Monk said it was not about money to get more affordable housing: “It’s not resources, it’s capacity. There is no shortage of money in terms of housing construction, it is the ability to deliver.
“There has been a lack of confidence in home builders who want to build in Cornwall because they are not sure what reception they will get. We want to work with them to try to provide as much affordable housing for the locals as possible. ”
However, Cllr Monk made it clear that there are no quick fixes to the current problems and that it will take time for the supply of affordable housing to increase.
He said the main short-term goal was to provide temporary and emergency accommodation to those at risk of homelessness.
However, he also highlighted a decision to provide additional funding of £ 15million and the council’s work in purchasing properties for rent from locals.
And he said with council development firm Treveth about to start work on new housing projects and plans for Langarth Garden Village, there were opportunities on the horizon for new homes.
“It is going in the right direction but it is still very difficult,” he said.
Andrew Mitchell was the former member of the Housing Cabinet in the last administration and said he was well aware that more needed to be done in Cornwall.
“All hardworking families in Cornwall know that affordable prices in Cornwall are not affordable. If you are spending more than 30% of your income on rent, you are in dire straits.
“That’s the biggest problem here – if you combine that with gas and electricity bills that could double shortly, the council tax goes up… it just gets more difficult.”
Councilor Mitchell said he believes it is important that all councilors from all parties work together to try to improve the affordable housing situation in Cornwall.
“Let’s work together for the people of Cornwall, we’re going to have different perspectives and it’s healthy, but on this we have to work in the best interests of the people of Cornwall and make a real change. ”
But he said he felt the council should look at large-scale projects to provide housing for local people rather than announcing small projects with ten to 20 houses.
“We really need to improve the game here – rather than delivering 18 houses, let’s deliver 180 and really increase the scale of delivery.”
However, Cllr Mitchell said he hopes the new administration will keep its promise to make housing a priority.
Cllr Monk said he intends to do this: “I want to make sure that whoever follows me on this job in four years will not just have a few accommodations drip-fed, but will have major projects offering good quality affordable housing. for local populations. I am determined to make it happen.
Having taken office in May, Cllr Monk admitted it was a ‘baptism by fire’ but said he had worked hard to understand the intricacies of the Cornwall housing situation by speaking to people across the spectrum, from those who are homeless to those who want to buy their own homes.
He said: “I am really determined and I want to make sure that we are honest with people about what is going on. The new affordable housing numbers are disappointing and we need to do better. When I can see locals moving into housing, I can say that we are doing something right.
“But for now, I’m trying to right the ship and make sure we deliver what the people of Cornwall want and need. I think it is going in the right direction. ”