Rural communities would become ghost towns without new social housing, a unique seminar in Barnham was told.
Lois Lane, a member of the National Housing Federation’s policy team, said the current lack of homes for those on low wages was a crisis.
She told the first event of its kind held by the Arun branch of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) that the need for such properties was essential for Barnham and its surrounding area.
“We have a huge number of households in desperate need in areas like this and we know we are not building enough of these most affordable and social rent homes,” she said.
“If we are not careful, we are going to end up with nurses, teaching assistants, bus drivers and carers who can’t afford to live in the place where they work.
“Over time, that will mean all the life will go out of the villages.”
She said the average annual wage in the Arun district was £24,336. But some of those salaries were just £18,725.
“Affordable rent would take up pretty much 50 per cent of your income on that salary. If you rented in the private sector, it would be even worse because the rents are even higher,” she said.
The seriousness of the situation was shown by the fact 12,348 households across East and West Sussex, excluding Brighton, were on housing waiting lists.
But only 60 houses a year were being built for social rent. “It will take us 205 years to meet that backlog,” she said.
Fellow speaker Tom Warder, the community-led housing manager for Action in Rural Sussex, said it was involved with 25 housing projects run by residents across Sussex. They included community land trusts, co-operative building and community self-build schemes.
Among the land trusts were those in Aldingbourne, Barnham and Eastergate, Slindon and Ford, he said.
The Aldingbourne trust is ‘looking at a range of sites’ which it can develop under a planning law which allows social housing where homes for sale would be ruled out.
In Slindon, the trust is looking at a National Trust site and at Ford the trust is involved in the large-scale plans for 1,500 homes and seeks a role in the community facilities which will support them.
Another of the speakers was Arun district councillor Amanda Worne (LD, Yapton).
She said: “It is important that affordable homes are also accessible as well as accessible homes being affordable. The two must go together.”
Arun’s cabinet member for planning, Cllr Martin Lury, was among the 60 people at the Barnham Community Hall event last Saturday. He said: “I’m well aware of the need for more social and affordable housing. I don’t want new homes just to be built for people to come down from Surrey and London and then out-commute. That does not help our area at all.”
CPRE Arun lead Michael Warden said: “We’re all well aware of the challenge before of us of providing homes for everyone and there are many obstacles to be overcome.”