Tuesday
Oct302012

HOME . FOOD . FIRE. by Rachel Francis

“Home is where one starts from” T.S. Eliot

An “affordable” home would be one where local people can afford to rent or buy based on local wages; Heating, electricity and water bills are manageable; And people build with consideration for the future.

My first home was a bedsit in Glastonbury.  My landlords were Lord and Lady Braine and they didn’t like visitors, so if there was an unexpected knock at the door, I had to hide my friend, Australian Rick, in the cupboard under the sink.  But I loved that flat, and the rent was £30 a week including fuel bills and roast dinner with the Braines on a Sunday.

Affordable homes

But what would it be like as a 19 year old today? A recent report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation warns of a new housing crisis in Britain, predicting that the number of people living with parents into their 30s could reach 3.7 million by 2020. And of course it’s not just young people who face this crisis. We all do.

For a thriving and healthy community, we need homes that people of all ages can afford to rent or buy based on local wages.

Since the recession things have been tough, not just for first time buyers, but for mortgage payers and tenants. In rural areas like the Marches, average wages are relatively low and it would be unjust if folk from very well paid jobs elsewhere were the only ones able to buy rural properties.

Affordable fuel bills

In 2011 the Centre for Sustainable Energy did a study of people on low incomes in Britain today, who have to juggle their weekly spend to meet needs …

“I've got arthritis. My hands get cold so I have to try and heat them up. I put the fire on for five minutes then I've got to turn it off again because it costs too much... if I put it on my husband goes mental because we have to pay the electricity and gas.”

“It's hard at the moment because I'm on just a small budget and I find that we're having to sit in the cold because if the money runs out on the meter, you haven't got any more money to put in.”

People are resourceful … there is always one more thing to cut back on to avoid crisis … but as constraints increase, choices get tougher. The same survey found that 65 per cent of those cutting back on heating were also cutting back on food.
In these situations, the benefits of well-insulated building fabric make it easier for people to keep warm without having to make sacrifices elsewhere, such as the food bill.  So a top priority for any affordable home is serious and lasting energy efficiency and insulation.

Affordable for the future

The Code for Sustainable Homes was established to improve the environmental performance of new homes in Britain. In Wales, a minimum of Code Level 3 is required for all new builds supported by the Welsh Government. The code works by awarding new homes a rating, based on their overall environmental impact. Level 1 is entry level and Level 6 is the highest. Credits are awarded for energy efficiency and insulation, water saving measures, use of local and recycled materials, daylight quality, accessibility, protection of local ecology and efficient use of land.  Building projects can improve their rating by, for example, specifying compost and recycling bins or solar panels.

It’s a great scheme, as long as insulation, draught proofing and ventilation without heat loss comes first.

Local solutions

Obviously it’s tempting for big building firms to cut corners and boost profit margins, but whilst it requires innovation to build a seriously energy efficient house on a tight budget, it’s what we need. That’s why local people are starting to drive forward not just for profit ideas such as:

Co-housing: new clusters of houses and apartments, planned, owned and managed by residents and built around community gardens and shared space. Building costs are significantly reduced by the efficient use of land and local resources.

Community Land Trust … local trust set up to purchase land for the community in order to provide good quality homes, which will be kept available for local people and at permanently affordable levels.

People who live on a low income in a cold home do not describe themselves as living in fuel poverty, but with the recession, millions more are struggling to make ends meet. We should all be doing something about this situation. If we don’t look after each other and our community, who will?

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