Do we need more houses in Herefordshire?
Housing is in the news
Housing issues have been in the news in Herefordshire with large new housing developments in some parts of the county and concerns about people sleeping rough in the city.
The Government and Herefordshire Council are planning for many more homes (16,500 between 2011 and 2031).
In this blog I’ve tried to pull together some of the data about housing in Herefordshire so we can all see, together, what’s going on. I’ve relied on this excellent report by the National Audit Office to point me in the right direction (and to explain some things about housing generally in England).
Do we have enough houses?
There are 84,240 properties in Herefordshire registered for Council Tax and this number has increased slowly over the past few years.
With a population of 189,300 that means there is an average of 2.63 people to each property. That’s a higher number than the figure for England overall where there are 2.33 people to each property. That’s a pretty crude measure but it does seem to suggest that there is a shortage of housing in Herefordshire as compared to England overall.
The demand for housing is driven by a couple of factors. An increase in population and a decrease in the size of households. Herefordshire’s population has increased in recent years and is predicted to increase over the next few years as a result of people moving here from other parts of the country and from overseas.
So overall it looks like Herefordshire doesn’t have enough houses for the population right now and the situation will get worse if the population increases as predicted.
Types of housing
Herefordshire Council does not own any housing of its own. A higher proportion of Herefordshire housing is in private hands than in England overall.
11,100 properties are owned by housing associations (officially known as registered providers in England), 310 properties are owned by other bits of the public sector (like the Ministry of Defence) and 72,890 (86%) are in the private sector. Across England 82% of housing is owned by the private sector.
In the 2011 census there were 6,904 second homes in the county. In 2017 there were 250 long term empty properties. That means 10% of the privately owned properties in Herefordshire are not available for local people to live in.
It is difficult to find firm numbers on levels of homelessness in Herefordshire.
Herefordshire Council makes formal returns to the government each year and these are published on the government's website. There’s a certain amount of technical jargon involved in these. I’m sorry about that but it needs to be included.
There are different sorts of people who we might regard as “homeless”. Clearly people sleeping on the streets (rough sleepers in the jargon) are homeless. What about people sleeping in cars, or “sofa surfing”? Most of us would regard those people as homeless too. What about people who live in houses but are under threat of eviction. Are they also homeless?
Council staff undertake a count of rough sleepers each year. In October/November 2017 they counted 11 people sleeping rough. This was a significant decrease on the previous year and below the long term average of 20.
The council reports on the number of cases where it has found that people are homeless and in priority need. Priority need includes people who have children living with them, people aged 16 or 17, (or as old as 20 if they are care leavers) and people who are vulnerable.
The council reported 29 cases of people (or families) homeless and in priority need, a very dramatic fall from the longer term average of 170.
So there are hundreds of people in Herefordshire who don’t have a safe and secure place to live even if most of them are not “in priority need” or sleeping rough.
Cost of housing
The affordability of housing is a factor of the cost of housing and the level of income. Income levels in Herefordshire are low. The median annual wages in Herefordshire (the amount at which 50% of people earn more and 50% earn less) were £25,004 in 2016. This was lower than the same figure for the West Midlands region (£26,270), Wales (£25,755) or England (£28,500).
Housing in Herefordshire is expensive to buy. There are different measures of how expensive houses are but a common one is the ratio between bottom quartile earnings (the amount you would have to earn to be paid more than 25% of people in Herefordshire but less than 75% of people in Herefordshire) and lowest quartile house prices (the price where 25% of houses sold for less and 75% of houses sold for more).
In Herefordshire in 2016 this figure was 8.6 (the house price was 8.6 times the annual wages). For England overall the figure was 6.7 (meaning houses are more affordable in England overall) in the West Midlands region (the English region Herefordshire sits in) the figure was lower again at 6.42 and in Wales (which, of course Herefordshire borders) the figure was even lower at 5.7.
Private rents are costly too. Someone in Herefordshire on lower quartile earnings would have to spend 32% of their wages to afford lower quartile rent compared to only 30% in the West Midlands region or England overall.
For housing association rent we have to use slightly different data. Someone on median earnings in Herefordshire would have to spend 21% of their wages to afford average housing association rents. In England as whole the figure is only 19%.
17% of households in Herefordshire are “fuel poor” meaning they spend a high proportion of their income on heating.
Overall housing costs in Herefordshire are high compared to England as a whole, Wales and the West Midlands region. Though at least part of this problem is that wages in Herefordshire are low.
What can we say about housing in Herefordshire?
Herefordshire does not have enough homes to meet the needs of its population now and its population is expected to increase in coming years. 10% of privately owned properties are used as second homes or are long-term empty properties.
Hundreds of people in the county don’t have safe and secure housing.
Herefordshire housing is costly. Though if people in Herefordshire had higher wages housing might not be as costly. You might think that building more houses would also reduce the cost of housing but it isn’t that simple. We can reduce fuel costs through initiatives like better insulation.
What are we going to do about it?
This post isn’t intended to propose solutions. I’m trying to describe the problem. The Brightspace Foundation believes it’s important that all of us in the county have access to the facts about the county. We need to address problems together but we can only do that if we agree on the facts about the starting point.
We’d be very interested to here what you think. Especially if you have more or different data that can add to our understanding of housing in Herefordshire.
The Brightspace Foundation
[This article was updated on 10 May 2018 to correct the link in footnote 2 and to add footnote 15 for clarity]