Home Business Frome declares housing crisis as rents soar out of reach

Frome declares housing crisis as rents soar out of reach

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A town has officially declared a housing crisis as rental rates soar out of the reach of local people.
Frome Town Council has adopted the formal declaration to draw attention to the shortage of housing in the town.
The average rent in Frome has risen to £1,499 a month, which is 50% of the average salary.
Councillor Polly Lamb, who proposed the idea, said: "Rents have skyrocketed and that is pushing out local people who have been here all their lives."
The town is the third in the country to declare a formal housing crisis, after South Hams in Devon and Leicester.
Declaring a crisis does not solve it of course but Ms Lamb hopes it will make housing a top priority for the council, in everything it does.
So how has a small town in Somerset become such a housing hotspot, and what can they do about it?
Some say Frome is a victim of its own success.
The town is full of quirky, independent shops and cafes, artists and green businesses.
There is a vibrant local market, full of artisan makers and food stalls.
All this has attracted regular attention from national newspapers and magazines, which frequently declare Frome one of the best towns to live in the UK.
It has led to many people moving from London to the Mendips.
Ironically, they have pushed rents up for the very people working in the shops and cafes that brought them here.
Sarah Wingrove is one of them.
"Born and bred in Frome," she laughs, arranging striking dresses in the shop she manages.
It is called Deadly is the Female, and typifies Frome's independent "shops with attitude", as one national reviewer described them.
But at 29, Sarah is still living with her parents.
"Even though I work a full-time job and freelance as a model, the mortgage people say I don't earn enough for a house in Frome," she said.
And renting, she says, would cost even more.
Summer Auty knows all about that.
The 24-year-old artist works four days a week in a famous local gallery, one of the magnets that draws people to Frome from London.
"I can't afford anything in Frome, so I'm living in my van", she said.
When looking for places to rent she found single rooms available for £500 a month or "over a thousand for your own place, just a small flat".
"It's ridiculous", she says.
"We need a complete redistribution of wealth, it's awful all the big homes lying empty, all the land we cannot use," she added.
The town is also home to environmental charities and community benefit companies. People trying to live a different life by reducing their impact on the planet.
Sam O'Malley is co-director of Shared Earth Learning, which runs forest schools for young people who find conventional education a challenge.
But finding a home for her family is a bigger challenge.
"We looked at places with mould on the walls, and even then the landlord had so much interest he could take his pick," she said.
For now, Ms O'Malley is lodging in a friend's house.
"I share a bed with my nine-year-old daughter and my son sleeps on a bunk above. It's far from ideal," she added.
Ms Lamb used to run a lettings agency and has seen the market rise quickly in Frome.
Now she is a town councillor, and proposed the declaration of a housing crisis.
"There are very few homes available that local people can afford," she tells me.
There are 600 families on the official council list, waiting to be housed.
So far in 2023, 50 have been found a place to live.
Meanwhile, commercial developers "continue to gnaw round the edges of the town", as Ms Lamb puts it.
"But they are all building large, expensive family homes, because that's where the profit is. We need social housing, urgently," she said.
Ms Lamb said declaring a housing crisis means the council will "weave housing policy" through everything it does.
One of the few councils to do this before, South Hams in Devon, followed-up with radical action by doubling council tax on second homes.
Frome Town Council does not have that power but it will urge Somerset Council to build more genuinely affordable homes in the area.
Somerset Council agrees, insisting it wants to build more too.
"The country as a whole has an affordable housing crisis,", said councillor Federica Smith-Roberts.
"We need to reassure communities that well-built, ecologically sensitive new homes will help their communities to thrive and ultimately we need to have government support for building social housing," she added.
Frome is famous for supporting local producers. Whether you want honey or a haircut, plums or a prom dress, the town will champion a local producer.
Housing is no exception and group of people have formed a Community Land Trust to find their own solution.
While politicians argue about national schemes, they want to find some land and build genuinely affordable homes for local people.
"The hardest bit is finding the land," says Tim Cutting, treasurer of Frome Area Community Land Trust (FACLT).
"As soon as anything comes up, it is snapped up by commercial developers, at a price we can't begin to afford," he added.
Instead, they will be urging Somerset Council to release land exclusively for use by local people.
Ms O'Malley hopes the scheme will work.
"Frome is a bright, vibrant place," she smiles.
"We do things differently. We should be able to find a new way through this madness," she added.
The government has previously said it is investing £11.5bn in affordable homes and had built 243,000 such homes in rural places since 2010.
It also said it is delivering a fairer deal for renters through the Renters Reform Bill.
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