Keswick’s Affordable Housing

A recent Housing Needs survey for Keswick (2011) carried out by Allerdale District Council found the following:
1. An unbalanced market for owner occupiers and social renters
2. Highest need is for 3 bedroom houses for rent
3. Estate agents report that they sell more properties as second homes and holiday lets than they sell to local people
4. Housing unaffordable for virtually the entire local population
5. Wages paid completely out of line with cost of accommodation
6. Employment options low paid and unskilled
7. Employers experiencing problems recruiting people locally.

That housing in Keswick is unaffordable for the vast majority of local people is incontrovertible. This area has an economy dominated by low wages, part-time work and seasonal work with over half of the workforce being employed in hotels, catering or retail. A household can be considered able to afford to buy a home if it costs 3.5 times the gross household income for a single earner households or 2.9 times the gross household for dual-income households.

According to the same Housing Needs survey:
• The lower quartile price (ie the average of the lowest quarter of property prices) for a property in this housing market area is £167,461. The lower quartile household income is £14,019 which would make affordable properties those selling at around £41,000.
• The median income is £24,237. If we use the formula based up on the lending criteria of banks and building societies then we define affordable as being 3.5 times the average household income, meaning the average household in the area can borrow just under £85,000. At the time of the report, the cheapest property for sale was a one bedroom retirement flat priced at £90,000.

What about rented properties? Housing waiting lists demonstrate (and probably significantly underestimate) the need for affordable housing in the town. According to the Housing Needs Survey (2011), in this housing market area, if no new need arose and taking into account the turnover for Keswick, it would take potentially, for example, 23 years to address the current need for 3 bedroom houses unless new houses are built.

The population of the town is already unbalanced. Keswick has a population of around 5,000.
24.7% Keswick residents ARE 65 or older, (average in England 15.9%).
23.3% children and young adults under 25 (average in England is 31%)

What are the implications of this for the community in Keswick?
This is John’s story –
John is a young man working as a car mechanic in Keswick. His wife Jane is a careworker at a local residential home. They are both from the town, living with John’s parents because they can’t afford to buy a house. To buy the cheapest family home possible they would need a joint income of over £65,000 – theirs is £27,000. There is a long waiting list for rented social housing and very little can be rented privately – what is available is very expensive but most properties are only for winter let anyway. Jane becomes pregnant and the couple are forced to move to the west coast, to live in rented accommodation. John changes his job because of the cost of travelling to the garage and Jane moves to a local care home in their new town. The garage and the care home struggle to replace them. Their parents are not at hand to babysit and will find it increasingly difficult to travel to see their grandchild as time goes on. As their parents grow older John and Jane will not have the time to travel to Keswick to care for their parents and may have to rely on social services. John was a reserve firefighter in the town; the fire service announces that it may have to close due to lack of eligible young people to crew the local service. Jane used to run the town Brownie group; there is no-one to replace her.

Other young people from the town find themselves in a similar position to John and Jane. The child minder no longer has any children to look after and loses a valuable source of income. The newsagent, already struggling due to lack of local customers, announces that the paper delivery service will have to cease because there are no paper boys and girls. The primary school comes under threat, due to low numbers and staff shortages. It has to compete fiercely with the village schools and some of them close with the knock-on effect on their communities.

And so it goes on …

This is a fictional story, but it reflects the reality faced by young people in Keswick. These are some real life cases:
I have a reasonably well paid job as a primary school teacher and was forced to pay £500 per month for a one bed flat with no parking, freezer or washing machine because I wanted to live in Keswick where I had grown up. I lived in freezing conditions over the winter (the coldest in years) due to the fact I was terrified to put the heating on as I could barely afford to survive. The council tax is Band B for a one bedroom place due to its ‘desirability’ which also costs me £100 a month even with my 25% discount. I paid the same rent in London where I was given an allowance as it was recognised that rent was so high and I actually paid less council tax as well. (Female, aged 27)

I moved to Keswick with my parents at 18 and went to Keswick school. Since returning from university moving out of my family home has not been even an option as I don’t have anyone to rent with as all my friends had moved away and I can’t afford it on my own. I used to have two part time jobs in Keswick – which were professional jobs – now I work full-time in West Cumbria. I did apply to a housing association to buy a shared ownership house but was not even considered. That was when mortgages were easily available- now I would not even consider it. (Female,aged 25)

We moved to Keswick 14 years ago. Our daughter met and married a Keswick lad and had to move outside the National Park because they could not afford to buy in Keswick. They now have two children and both work in Keswick. They would love to be able to move back. (Couple who are actively involved in many aspects of Keswick life)

If you want to see more facts and figures as they apply to Keswick, they are provided in the appendices of the downloadable Share Offer Prospectus.

The situation is serious but – and this is important – if the community works together it can be dealt with and Keswick Community Housing Trust are committed to making a start – with YOUR help.

If you like living in Keswick and benefit from all that it provides then please don’t let one of the most vital elements in the town – young people – drain away.