Our picturesque town is being ruined by selfish second home owners… I can’t afford sky high rents so I’m living in a van | The Sun

NESTLED among the Somerset hills the picturesque market town of Frome is a tourist magnet with its cobbled streets and a swanky members club revered by A-list celebrities.

But the pretty town, previously voted the best place to live in Britain, has paid a stark price for its soaring popularity.

The sky-rocketing cost of rentals is out-pricing local people, forcing them to quit their homes and move to cheaper areas.

Worse still, some are even being left homeless due to the lack of affordable and social housing in the town, which has a population of only 30,000.

Frome Town Council was this month forced to officially declare a ‘housing crisis’. The average rent now sits at nearly £1,500 a month – 50 per cent of the typical salary.

Councillor Polly Lamb, a former lettings agent, said skyrocketing rents have pushed out local people who have been there all their lives.


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Single mum-of-two Sam O’Malley, 38, found herself homeless when a change in circumstances led to struggles while looking for a rental property.

She tells The Sun: “I had to lie to the lettings agent to even get my foot in the door. I told them I earned £30,000 but it’s actually half that.

“They showed me places I wouldn’t put my dog in, they were disgusting. One place was mouldy, and its floors were so wet with damp that they’d gone wavy. It was horrible.

“I’ve been staying with my friend for a year now. She’s lovely, but she could also decide she needs us out at any point, because there are nine people in a house with one bedroom, so it’s far from ideal.

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Mum-of-two Sam O'Malley, the co-director of Shared Earth Learning, a not-for-profit forest school organisation that works with pre-teens and teenagers, recalls seeing mouldy properties with wet floorsCredit: Supplied

“I share a double bottom bunk with my daughter, who’s nine, and my 11-year-old son has the top bunk, but he really needs his own space.

“Not being able to provide security for my own children has made me feel terrible, it’s a real gut punch.

“The biggest toll has been on my mental health. I’m permanently around people, I can’t go home and scream at the toaster, I can’t ever have time on my own.”

Sam claimed 90 per cent of the children she works with at Shared Earth Learning, a not-for-profit forest school organisation that works with pre-teens and teenagers, where she is a co-director, also have housing issues.

One boy sleeps in his parents’ bed until they go to sleep and then moves to a camp-bed on the floor. Another shares a room with a tiny baby.

I had to lie to the lettings agent to even get my foot in the door, I told them I earned £30,000 but it’s actually half that

She’s pleased the council has recognised the issues many people are facing.

Sam said: “Frome has lived in a bubble for too long with its awards for being the best place to live. It’s not just me, everyone’s affected. 

“Second homes belong to commuters and people who were priced out of London. We can no longer afford them.

“The fact it’s popular with celebrities doesn’t help either. We had the Foo Fighters and Paul McCartney playing here before going on to Glastonbury, and it’s making Frome one of ‘those’ places.”

There's also Babington House – a manor house with a trendy Soho House members club that's popular with celebrities like David and Victoria Beckham and Amanda Holden.

“After living in a bubble it’s like Frome has suddenly gone, ‘Ok, now we have a problem’, which can only be a good thing," Sam said.

"We desperately need something done so people can have access to affordable, decent housing."

She is on the council’s list for people who need housing, but there are 600 people also waiting for homes. Only 49 homes have been found in the past six months.

'I live in a van'

In the county of Somerset, there are 10,000 people on the list, which equates to roughly 1,000 families.

Young artist Summer Auty, 24, has been living in her van while working part-time in a local art gallery.

She was born and bred in Frome before moving to London to go to university. She used the last of her student loan to buy the van.

Summer told the BBC: "I'm currently living in my van because I can't afford to rent or buy and I need to stay local for my work.

"I've been here for over 20 years and it's a struggle to not be able to afford to live here.

"I was studying in London but due to Covid I came back to Frome and luckily I had enough money left over to buy this van.

"I would love to live in a small house, I'm not looking for anything big, and the last thing I want is for them to build more homes on our green spaces."

'Fearing eviction'

Others who are lucky enough to have found homes to let fear the rising cost of them will eventually price them out of town.

Dion Downey, 27, has lived in his home for a year with his partner and toddler.

He said: “We were looking for somewhere warm and dry, but there were slim pickings when we looked.

"We didn’t want somewhere we’d have problems with damp, we needed somewhere a two-year-old would have space.

“We found somewhere which suited us and had everything we need, but there is a worry about prices in the future.

“We’re lucky to have a good landlord now – they do exist – but if prices go up any more we wouldn’t find somewhere within our price range that’s as good as what we have now, I just don’t think that exists.

“I know there’s a very real possibility that we’ll have to move out of Frome, which we don’t want to do. There are a lot of young families here, lots of independent shops and businesses and it’s very vibrant.

“Frome has a very great community spirit, but the fact there are so few homes available and people own second homes here can be a source of tension, which drives tensions that already exist."

Dion added that a lot of new houses are being built, but they're not "affordable".

“We also need the infrastructure that should come with more houses, like schools, business space and everything else that goes along with having a bigger population, so we don’t just become a commuter town," he said.

'Triple the tax'

Steve Toan, 68, is a semi-retired accountant who has lived in Frome for 30 years.

He said: “Somerset has become a bit of a holiday area and there's not a lot you can do about that.

"They've tripled the council tax in Wales for second homes and I don't think it's a bad idea. 

“Second homes are a problem. The estate behind us was built about 25 years ago, and from what I gather, it was sold off plan and locals just didn't buy.

"Virtually all those houses are rented either full-time, second homes or holiday homes. It’s contributed to the housing crisis by pushing the prices up.

"My kids probably couldn't afford to buy or rent anything here now.

"My neighbour's house is a rental house, and the rent is sky-high.

“It's pricing local people out of the area essentially, and if your kids wanted to stay here in the future, they will struggle. It’s much more expensive here than in other Somerset towns. 

“It's become the place to be, so part of the problem is that is has become so popular because it’s a unique town, so in that sense, Frome has become its own worst enemy.”

Local bookkeeper Natalie Smith, 52, said: "We've just moved outside of Frome because all the house prices have gone up and we wanted to get more for our money.

"My kids won't be able to afford to rent here… The people who own the second homes have embraced the local community and the town, but it's a shame it's meant local people can't afford to rent or buy here now."

Bar-tender and shop assistant Danny Challinor, 23, said: "We were really lucky, we knew how competitive the rental market was, so as soon as we saw somewhere we liked we jumped on it straight away.

"We're struggling to afford it now, but if the prices go up we know there's a chance we'll be forced out of the area."

'Urgent need'

Frome regularly appears as one of the country’s best places to live in the Sunday Times.

Owners of second homes in the area will be charged double the amount of council tax once the government passes new legislation.

Councillor Federica Smith-Roberts, executive lead member for Communities, Housing and Culture at Somerset County Council, said: "The country as a whole has an affordable housing crisis, but Somerset's problems are exacerbated by changing demographics and the current restrictions on building new homes because of national 'nutrient neutrality' policy.

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"As a council, we need to reassure communities that well-built, ecologically sensitive new homes for young people and families will help their communities to thrive.

"Ultimately, we need to have government support for building social housing, either delivered by councils or social housing providers."

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