As a rural housing association based in the largest county in the country, supporting communities is a major part of our corporate strategy. We believe strong communities are mixed communities.
In our most rural areas, we see the issues that are generated by having communities that are ageing, combined with high numbers of second homes. Even in our market towns, we see house prices that exceed local incomes to such an extent that, according to the NHF affordability index, they are between 8-10 times that of average incomes, one of the highest rates in the North.
Over the last few months, as with every housing association, we have been adapting to cope with coronavirus. We would like to think one of the few positives that has come out of the pandemic is a greater appreciation of key workers and the realisation that this extends beyond the NHS to include our carers, our cleaners and our food sector, to name just a few.
These sectors are big employers in North Yorkshire, but many of those working in these sectors are marginalised when it comes to housing to such an extent that many people commute into the area to work. How much better to have care workers living and working in the same area, as a respected part of the community, rather than transient visitors, and also how much better for the environment?
So what can we do?
This is easier said than done, particularly in terms of finding the land, but we are determined and play the long game, building partnerships with local authorities, the National Parks, local landowners and Homes England so they can trust us to build well designed homes that meet the needs of local communities.
It is also important to build links with local builders who understand the challenges of building in rural areas. This year we started a scheme in West Witton to bring much needed affordable rent homes to the village. It took 10 years to get to this stage!
Our homes must have good space standards and broadband connections. In the post-coronavirus world with more work being done from home, why should rural areas miss out on these new opportunities?
Incomes in many rural jobs are insecure and variable, so renting from a housing association is a good choice. Secure lifetime tenancies make all the difference in challenging times and we will continue to make the case for renting.
Rural homes have high heating costs so investing in energy efficiency is a good way of enabling sustainable tenancies.
Efficiency measures and air source heat pumps are a key part of our strategy. We invested in two of our rented homes in Welbury to ensure there were energy efficient homes for rent in the village.
In the end, sustainable communities are ones where people want to stay and a key ingredient to that is the provision of safe, secure and warm homes.