House building in the county is failing to keep pace with demand, leaving more and more people facing homelessness according to Kent charity Catching Lives.
The latest government figures show Kent needs 8,519 new homes, yet only 3,100 were built last year, leaving a shortfall of 5,419. In comparison, the county with the next highest shortfall in the southeast is Surrey, which requires an extra 3,891 homes.
The lack of housing means higher property prices and increasing rents that are fast becoming unaffordable for some. The average house in the south east costs just under £300,000, ten times average yearly earnings.
Terry Gore, general manager of homeless charity Catching Lives, said:
“It’s becoming more and more difficult to get people off the streets because we can’t find them accommodation. Property prices are just going to go up and up. More and more people are buying property as an investment as opposed to a place to live. They have to cover the mortgage so they charge more for rent.
The effect it has is it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find reasonably priced accommodation to rent. There is not enough – there has’t been much in the way of new building in the area in years.”
In December KentOnline reported the number of rough sleepers on the county’s streets last year had increased by a third. It’s a picture Mr Gore recognises all too well, and he says it’s the lack of affordable housing that’s often to blame.
“We’re seeing people who are spending many months on the streets because we we can’t find private rented accommodation for them to live in. If there’s one thing that would help with homelessness it would be building more accommodation. We need more places for people to live.”
“You’ve still got right to buy in place. Councils are having to sell off accommodation they might not want to. We don’t have enough social housing to sell it off at a discount price. If that continues it’s just going to get worse and we’ll see more people on the streets.”
But as recent debate over residential developments such as Rochester’s Lodge Hill demonstrates, house building is often an emotive subject. Mr Gore said:
“Lots of local communities have some resistance to building houses because it’s going to impinge on the countryside. But we have to make out minds up about what we want. Do we want places for people to live or do we want to protect all of the countryside? I like the countryside as much as the next man, but we have to build our houses somewhere.”
The National Housing Federation says soaring housing costs and a lack of affordable homes means more taxpayers’ money is going into the pockets of private landlords, as working people are forced to rely on housing benefit to help pay their rent. Yet Mr Gore said many private landlords in Canterbury and other parts of Kent will not rent property to people receiving housing benefits, and one at least has gone as far as evicting welfare recipients.
The demand for homes outstrips supply in every local authority area in Kent, with Medway alone facing a dearth of more than 1,000 houses. The National Housing Federation said that unless more houses were built as a matter of urgency, future generations will suffer. David Orr, chief executive of the National Housing Federation, said:
“If tackling the housing crisis is about anything, it’s about building more homes. It’s the lack of supply and failure to cater for demand, which pushes up prices and leaves needy people out in the cold. Unless we act now and get building more housing of all types, but particularly genuinely affordable housing, we are in danger of making today’s housing crisis our children’s problem. That’s why we’re asking that politicians get their heads out the sand and commit to a long-term plan to ending the housing crisis within a generation.”