Affordable housing is an umbrella term used by the government to describe lower-rent properties that are available to eligible households unable to afford the full market rate.
This includes traditional social rent housing – which is similar to what most people know of as council housing – and “affordable rent” housing, which was first introduced in 2011/12.
Social rent is based on a formula that combines local wages and local property values, and typically sees rents set at around 50% of private rents in the same area.
“Affordable rent”, however, is capped at 80% of the full market rate – meaning that in many areas it will still be out of the reach of people on low incomes.
Charities say that affordable housing should only be considered truly affordable if it also factors in how much people in the area are earning.
The first year that “affordable rent” was introduced, it made up just 5% of all new affordable housing in Cornwall.
However, just a year later in 2012/13 new “affordable rent” properties made up nearly half of all affordable housing either built or acquired during the year, and by 2013/14 they had overtaken new social rent homes altogether, accounting for 95% of the total.
The number of social homes being built in our county has plummeted from 423 in 2011/12 to just 74 last year.
Similarly, the national average saw 81% of new affordable housing built or acquired across England in 2017/18 classed as “affordable rent” rather than social rent.
Last year Cornwall Council announced plans to introduce a new ”living rent” scheme which would help those who were unable to afford both affordable rents and private rents but are ineligible for social housing.
The council is looking to link the rent charges for these new homes with local wage levels.
Under the proposals Cornwall Council would set living rent rates at 30% of the weekly income of the lowest 25% of earners.
The average Cornwall Living Rent for a two-bedroom home would be £108 compared to £88 a week for social rent, £120 for affordable rent and £150 for private rent.
When the plans were first discussed last summer, Cornwall councillor Tim Dwelly said the council had chosen to set its own affordable rent rates at the highest level possible. He said there was no requirement for affordable rent to be 80% of the market rate.
Polly Neate, chief executive at homelessness charity Shelter, said: “Affordable housing should only earn its name if the rent reflects what people in the local area are actually paid.
“In many areas, ‘affordable’ rents are simply not affordable. This forces families to choose between the roof over their head, food on the table or a warm bedroom for their children – and those on the lowest incomes often can’t get a foot in the door in the first place.
“With millions of people on waiting lists up and down the country and many others barely making ends meet, it’s clear that families need a truly affordable alternative.
“Now is the time to back our call for 3.1 million more social homes over the next 20 years and give a boost to those families who want to get on in life.”
Average rents for both social and “affordable rent” properties vary, depending on location, whether the property is owned by the local authority or a private registered provider, and whether the housing is general needs or supported housing.
Supported housing is specifically for people who have additional needs, such as elderly people, victims of domestic violence, homeless people, people with mental health needs, ex-servicemen and women, and people with learning disabilities.
Because support and care services are provided in addition to housing management, supported housing usually costs more than general needs social housing.
The most common type of affordable housing found in Cornwall is general needs properties managed by private registered providers, such as housing associations.
These cost £81.10 a week on average for a social rent property, compared to £120 a week for an “affordable rent” property – meaning “affordable rent” in Cornwall is typically 48% higher, or £2,023 more a year. Private renters in Cornwall pay £150 a week, on average.
Kate Henderson, chief executive of the National Housing Federation, said: “In 2010, the government stopped funding social housing altogether, and announced it would only fund homes for ‘affordable rent’ instead.
“This left housing associations in a really difficult position where they had to choose between building homes for ‘affordable rent’ or building nothing.
“In the face of a dire housing shortage, many housing associations chose to build affordable rented homes, but continued to argue that social housing shouldn’t be neglected.
“While affordable rents do work for some people, there are many more who desperately need social housing.
“In 2017, the government announced some new money for social housing for the first time in seven years, but this is nowhere near enough.
“Our research shows that we need to be building 90,000 social homes every year – but last year, only around 6,500 were built.
“The government’s upcoming spending review is a great opportunity to invest in social housing and make sure that everyone has somewhere affordable and stable to live.”