For people struggling to find affordable rented housing in their local rural community or older residents needing to move from their current home there is hope that help could be on the way.
The Rural and Community Housing Enabling service (RACE) is an independent service for Kent and Medway, providing expertise and working directly with communities to deliver housing that matches what local people need.
RACE works with parish councils, housing teams at district and borough councils, housing associations and local developers to identify rural communities where action needs to be taken to meet the housing needs of local people.
Central to its work are housing needs surveys which it carries out aimed at the residents of individual villages and rural communities to find out whether there is a need for affordable housing locally.
There might be a need for affordable rented accommodation because people may be living in unaffordable private rented housing or in temporary accommodation. Or a young person is unable to move from the family home due to a lack of suitable housing in the area. There may be a need for housing for essential workers who have had to move away from the parish to find cheaper housing elsewhere.
The survey – which are sent to every home in a village or rural community – also seeks to understand whether there are older people, including homeowners who need alternative housing, maybe because their current home is too large or unmanageable.
These postcard surveys are carried out by RACE in partnership with the parish council, a fact which helps provide residents with the reassurance that they are being undertaken with the knowledge of their local authority. To underline this, the local Parish Clerk is listed in the survey as the person to speak to if a resident has a query.
Postcards direct people to complete an online survey, with alternative arrangements made to help those who are unable to access the internet.
Responses to surveys are analysed and if a need for affordable rented housing is identified the RACE team will work with the parish council and the local borough or district authority to find a suitable site for a small development, usually of around eight to ten properties. Any plans would then be presented at a village consultation event so that all residents can give their views.
These type of affordable housing schemes are rented through a housing association or the local authority at lower than market rent or as shared ownership (part rent/part buy). The new homes are only for people with a housing need who can demonstrate a strong connection to the village. There is no right to buy the homes, which means they will forever remain affordable for the community. There are examples of these small developments in many of Kent’s villages.
RACE also supports community-led housing groups such as community land trusts (CLT), cohousing and co-operatives to achieve their aim. The RACE team are accredited community led housing advisors and have worked with Shepherdswell CLT who now have ten homes under construction and are the first CLT in Kent to achieve planning permission.
RACE has been set up by the Kent Housing Group (KHG), the voice of the housing sector in Kent and Medway. RACE is being hosted by KHG member Ashford Borough Council and supported by contributions from councils and housing associations working across the county. RACE provides a service which was previously undertaken by Action with Communities Rural Kent.
Brian Horton, Interim Chair of KHG, said: “The Kent Housing Group has a long standing commitment and success in supporting the delivery of affordable housing for the rural communities of Kent and Medway. This has been in partnership with a number of organisations, each of whom are passionate about protecting and invigorating our rural communities.
“RACE is all about bringing a rural community together, to understand what their housing needs are and to give them a voice when it comes to finding solutions that are going to work.”
To find out more about RACE please email Tessa.O’Sullivan@ashford.gov.uk
3-7 July is Rural Housing Week