The Hidden Housing Crisis: Unaffordability and Homelessness Soar in England’s Counties

In a recent comprehensive report, the County Councils Network has shed light on the deepening housing crisis that is gripping England’s rural areas and county towns. The report, titled “Housing in Counties: Delivering homes for all, in the right places“, paints a stark picture of the challenges facing these communities, from skyrocketing unaffordability to rising homelessness.

One of the most striking findings is the dramatic increase in households choosing to live in county areas over the past decade. By 2021, there were over 800,000 more households residing in these regions compared to 2011 – a growth rate of 7.8%, outpacing all other local authority types. This trend is driven partly by the overall increase in housing supply, with county areas accounting for 51% of England’s total housing delivery during this period.

However, the report reveals that this growth has come at a cost. The average house price in county areas now stands at a staggering £309,746, a whopping 11.1 times average annual earnings. This marks a significant increase from 2016 when properties were 10.5 times annual salaries. The affordability gap is widening, pushing homeownership out of reach for many rural residents.

Consequently, the private rental sector has exploded in county areas, with 450,000 more households renting privately compared to a decade ago – a staggering 30.6% rise. Social housing has also seen a significant expansion, with 130,000 more households renting from registered providers. These trends highlight the growing housing divide in rural England, with fewer people able to access mortgages and more forced into renting.

Perhaps most alarmingly, homelessness has risen above pre-pandemic levels in county areas. Comparing Q4 2020/21 to Q4 2022/23, there were 4,467 more households assessed as homeless – an 18% increase. The number of households in temporary accommodation also rose by 6,087 during this period, a 52% rise.

The report makes it clear that the current housing system is failing rural communities. Despite some progress in affordable housing delivery, it is simply not keeping pace with demand. The County Councils Network is calling for a long-term plan to tackle the housing crisis, including increased delivery across all tenures, reducing homelessness and reliance on temporary accommodation, and improving standards in the rental sector.

As the government grapples with planning reforms and housing targets, it is crucial that the unique needs of rural areas and county towns are not overlooked. The report’s recommendations, such as strategic planning across county areas and a focus on delivering genuine affordability, must be taken seriously if we are to address this hidden housing crisis and ensure that everyone has access to a decent, affordable home.

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