It can be hard enough getting a foot on the first rung of the housing ladder pretty much anywhere, but when you live in a desirable Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – it can be even tougher.
A number of young families in Gower are in such a position.
Despite often both parents working full-time, the nature of the Gower, with its small villages, little in the way of new development, and a strong desirability factor which attracts people from far and wide to a life by the sea, makes many house prices out of reach for all but higher level earners. Even rental prices are too high for some.
But rather than just accept they may never be able to afford to buy a home in the place where they live, and have to exist with the ever-present uncertainty of having a tenancy ended by their landlord, some of these families have decided to do something about it.
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Gŵyr Community Land Trust CiC are a group of families who all live and work locally but who are unable to afford their own homes in the area.
They intend to build sustainable, zero carbon, low impact, stylish, healthy, community-led homes, for both local residents and the environment to thrive.
Beth Hawkins, who sits on the planning subgroup of the CiC, said: “The average house price is over £200,000 or more, even a couple of miles away. We are all personally in need of [our own] housing, we’re all vulnerable to the market and landlords willing to sell their homes, which much happens.”
“We all love living here. and we work here. We’ve got businesses, businesses here, and we want to stay here.”
“We just feel as a group, we’ve just got to take matters into our own hands. If we sit around waiting for the council to build us affordable housing, our kids are going to be growing up in that time. We just feel quite strongly that the time is now, it’s a massive housing crisis and everyone deserves to have somewhere safe and secure.”
Adam and Niaomh are also members of the trust who have found themselves facing the housing crisis problem.
Adam works at a local sustainable construction company on the Gower, and Niaomh set up a not-for-profit catering company providing training in the hospitality industry for many different groups.
Despite them both working full time, like Beth, they too are at the mercy of the housing market.
Adam said: “Me and Niaomh are married and looking to start a family in the village where we live and work. We currently pay very high rent for a really small bungalow in Murton and are often worried that if our landlord decided to sell up or charge more rent, we would have to move away as there are so few affordable rental properties.
“Despite both working full time, buying a house in the area is currently way out of reach. Our life is in the village and we feel a part of the local community and it would be very difficult to create that again somewhere else.
“Rather than just complaining though, we love the idea of working together with other people in our community who are in the same boat to find a solution. There are lots of other people who work really really hard but are still unable to buy a house and we don’t think this is right. It’s great that people want to come and visit Gower, but people who work here need somewhere to live too.”
Karenza and her son, Eddie, have rented in the area for more than 20 years, yet their circumstances have prevented them from owning their own home.
Karanza said: “We have lived here for most of Eddie’s 22 years. Eddie is autistic and needs constant support, both from myself and a team of support workers, and we have built a strong network around us.
“Both of us are involved in various positions within the autism community I set up and chaired Swansea Autism Movement CiC for 5 years as well as being involved in setting up the Swansea Parent Carer Forum with the local authority.
“Because of Eddie’s needs, I have put my career in the classical music world on hold, but I truly believe if we lived in a supportive environment with access to safe outdoor space with the right people around us, Eddie would be able to be more independent and I would be able to start working part-time again.
“We currently live in rented housing in a built up area. I do not feel it is safe for Eddie to be out on his own. Despite putting in a lot of effort to convert a shed into a sensory room for Eddie, our landlord could sell up and ask us to move out at any time. We really want to find somewhere permanent.”
In the past 12 months, the price of a house in the Gower has risen, on average, by nearly £20,000.
Two such houses were some of the most expensive houses sold in wales between July and September this year.
According to Zoopla, in the Swansea area the average salary is £28,000 yet the average property value is £167,000. Around 20% of homes have risen in value by more than the average salary in the past year, which equates to approximately 20,000 homes.
Some of these properties aren’t even permanently lived in. As of January, 2021, there were 24,873 second homes registered for council tax purposes in Wales, according to official figures, but the true number of homes could be much higher, depending on the exact definition used.
In June, the Welsh Government announced a three-pronged approach to ensure everyone in Wales had access to quality, affordable housing. But for some, this isn’t happening fast enough.
Another Gower Community trust member, who asked to remain anonymous, said they worried constantly about their rented property.
They said: “We live locally and our children go to school here. The feeling of housing insecurity has always been with me as a renter, but since having children it has become such a huge worry and constant focus.
“There is damp in the place we rent and recently a pest infestation, but I am too scared to inform my landlord as I know they could just get fed up with having to sort stuff out and turn the place into an Airbnb.
“I lay as low as possible. The reality is if we got kicked out of here, there are no properties to rent near enough to my kids’ school, my work and within our budget. When these properties do come up there is so much interest and they go within hours.
“I am almost 40, have an average salary for the area and yet I have never lived anywhere where I am allowed to put up a shelf or put picture hooks on the walls and I know I am not alone in this, the housing crisis means that many of us will never own our own homes unlike previous generations. I can’t wait to be part of building my own home.
“Being part of Gwyr CLT is giving me hope that I won’t be living in housing insecurity forever and that I will be able to provide a healthy, damp-free home for my children to grow up in.”
The initial 12 houses that the trust is intending to build will be constructed with low waste materials and will use local companies to help contribute to the community.
Community is something that Beth hopes the new affordable development will revive.
She said: “These communities are dying out because people can’t afford to live here. The schools have got really low numbers. It’s just an ageing community, the average age being between 60-70, which obviously brings its own issues, such as isolation.
“And if there’s anything that we’ve learnt from the past year, it’s the need to bring people together.”
The 12 homes will be allocated based off the council’s own affordable housing criteria, meaning people must have lived and worked or have grown up in the area to be eligible for one.
Furthermore, you must not already own a house of your own.
The houses will also always be part-owned by the trust, meaning they can never be sold for profit and will always be an affordable option in the community.
The trust is looking at ways to make the mortgage a percentage of the occupant’s salary and the sustainable nature of the housing means that bills will be as low as possible. It is currently looking to acquire between 1.5 acres and five acres of land to make the homes a reality, and if its initial 12 houses go well, it will look to build more.
Beth said: “We are currently a group of six families but we have a long list of people waiting to join us.
“This is a problem we want to solve in our lifetime before the damage is done and communities are irreparable.”
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