The average rent has risen to £1,499 a month (Image: GETTY)
Frome Town Council in Somerset says the average rent has risen to £1,499 a month, pricing out locals.
Councillor Polly Lamb, who proposed the emergency declaration, blames second-home owners drawn to its quirky independent shops, cafes and vibrant market.
Private landlords are also raising rents to cover massive increases on mortgages. Meanwhile, 600 families are on the official council list waiting to be housed.
Frome is the third place to formally declare a housing crisis following Leicester in 2021 and South Hams in Devon last year.
Cllr Lamb said: “Rents have skyrocketed and that is pushing out local people who have been here all their lives. There are very few homes available they can afford.”
Ms Lamb, who used to run an ethical lettings agency, said commercial developers “gnaw round the edges of the town”.
But she added: “They are all building large, expensive family homes, because that’s where the profit is. We need social housing, urgently.”
Frome was recently crowned as the best place to live in Somerset (Image: GETTY)
Somerset Council member Federica Smith-Roberts agreed: “The country has an affordable housing crisis. We need to reassure communities that well-built, ecologically sensitive new homes will help their communities thrive and ultimately we need to have Government support for building social housing.”
Workers and residents in the town were quick to confirm the problem. Sarah Wingrove, 29, manager of the Deadly is the Female vintage dress shop, said she still lives with her parents due to housing costs.
She said: “I work a full-time job and freelance as a model, but the mortgage people say I don’t earn enough for a house in Frome.” Rented rooms can go for £500 a month, a small one-person flat can cost more than £1,000.
Sophie Mullins, 36, owner of a zero-waste refills shop, said: “I sold my house so I could open my own independent business in Frome, therefore I was looking to rent.
“I managed to find a property and I was in there for about two years.
“We ended up getting very difficult neighbours and I was pregnant, so we were looking to move. We were looking for a rental for about four months with no luck.
“We only managed to find a property because our friends had neighbours who were moving and passed our contact details directly to the landlord.
“That was the only way we could find somewhere that wasn’t crazy expensive or had already gone by the time we’d rung to book a viewing. My partner went to view a property and we were deliberating over it. He rang to speak to the estate agent – and they told him someone from London had offered £300 more per month.
“They were willing to pay a year up front. There was just no way we could afford that.”
Property developer Connor Raudsepp, 26, recently purchased a rundown one-bed flat with a business partner and hopes to put it on the rental market once complete.
He said: “We’re not going to skip over that there’s profit in property development. The main reason I’m in it is for profit.
“However, this place has been empty and is going to serve a purpose in the future, putting a roof over somebody’s head.
“There are a lot of empty properties that could be turned into homes which would increase supply and ease rental costs. It’ll be rented out at market value. I think that’s fair, it’s the only thing you can do.
“Because of rising rates you can’t do it for any cheaper because you’re not going to make any money and all of this effort would be pointless. We’re not taking this money and then running off to the Bahamas, it’s going to be invested in another development somewhere else – another place brought back to the market.”
One group determined to fix things has formed a Community Land Trust in a bid to find land and build affordable homes for locals.
Tim Cutting, treasurer of Frome Area Community Land Trust, said: “The hardest bit is finding the land. As soon as anything comes up, it is snapped up by commercial developers, at a price we can’t begin to afford.”
Instead, FACLT will be urging Somerset Council to release land exclusively for use by local people.
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The Government has said it is investing £11.5billion in affordable homes and has built 243,000 of them in rural places since 2010.
It also said it is delivering a fairer deal for renters through the Renters Reform Bill.
Frome deputy mayor Andy Jones said “We’ve become increasingly aware of the difficulties some have in trying to stay in the town that they love and work in. It’s time to find different solutions.
“The problem we have is when these commercial developments are given planning permission on the edge of our towns and villages its on the basis that say 30% of the build will be affordable housing.
“But then the developers have studies undertaken that show it is no longer feasible to include so much affordable housing and it gets cut back and back.
“So it is becoming increasingly difficult to develop new social housing when it is so desperately needed.
“This has to change.”
COMMENT BY DAVID FELL From the early 1990s, a stampede of new landlords into the buy-to-let market meant a plentiful supply of homes available to private tenants.
As a result, increases in rent ran well below inflation for many years.
Today, there are almost three million more renters than in the late 1980s, many of whom would previously have been living in council accommodation.
So demand for rented accommodation is at an unprecedented high just at a time when many private landlords are being hammered by higher interest rates.
Most landlords have a mortgage, and when their fixed rates come to an end, they are seeing their payments double or even triple.
These increases are higher than for a homeowner with a repayment mortgage.
To make matters worse, in 2016 the Government introduced a 3% stamp duty surcharge for buy-to-let investors alongside a move to tax some landlords on turnover rather than profit.
This halted the rise in the number of rented homes available and it now appears, in combination with higher interest rates, it may reduce the amount of accommodation available even further.
Highly mortgaged investors are leaving the market. New would-be investors are sitting on their hands. And that means fewer properties available.
In a lower interest rate environment, new investors would be enthusiastically buying properties to let them to private tenants, meaning more homes would be available and rental prices would ease.
Higher interest rates are putting downward pressure on house prices, but they’re also pushing up rents.
It is hard to see rental prices returning to more normal levels until mortgage rates fall.
David Fell is Hamptons’ lead analyst