Category Archives: Local Government

Over 630,000 living in ‘hazardous conditions’, report

A major report has revealed that 631,000 people in England are living in ‘hazardous conditions’.

In response to 2017’s Grenfell Tower disaster, and commissioned by homelessness charity Shelter, ‘A Vision for Social Housing’ consulted over 31,000 people from across the country and brought together 16 commissioners from across the political spectrum.

The report reveals that 3.1 million people in England need a social home – and of the 1.27m in greatest need: 631,000 live in hazardous conditions; 240,000 live in overcrowded accommodation; 194,00 live with ill health or disability; 128,000 are rough sleeping and hidden; and 79,900 are homeless and in temporary accommodation.

Asking ‘what is the future of social housing’, the authors state that the country is ‘feeling the effects of 40 years of failure in housing policy’ and specifically blame:

  • A failure to build enough homes. Over the past five years, housebuilding has averaged 166,000 a year, yet government wants to deliver 300,000 homes a year
  • Huge waiting lists for social homes. Today, 277,000 people are homeless
  • The explosion in the numbers renting privately, unable to buy or access social housing
  • Huge rises in welfare costs to government, driven by more people renting privately at higher costs

According to the report, if the crisis is to be solved, 3m new social homes must be built over the next 20 years.

The commission warns that without a ‘radically different approach’ the country faces a future in which:

  • A generation of young families will be trapped renting privately for their whole lives, while more and more will face living in dangerous accommodation or going into debt
  • By 2040, as many as one-third of 60-year-olds could be renting privately, facing unaffordable rent increases or eviction at any point
  • £billions more in welfare costs will be paid to private landlords due to a lack of more affordable social housing
  • Over the next 20 years, hundreds of thousands more people will be forced into homelessness by insecure tenancies and sky-high housing costs

Nadine, a private renter who contributed to the report, lives with her teenage daughter and works two jobs – yet still struggles to keep up with the rent. She said: ‘My rent is over half my monthly income, so that’s where most of my money goes. It’s hard to afford other things we need. I am cutting back and doing the best I can, but there are times we can’t live on the money we’ve got.

‘We budget on our food and it’s very rare that I buy anything full price. I shop around to take advantage of all the vouchers and deals I can get.

‘No one should have to spend more than a third of their income on rent. If they are going to set a minimum wage, then there should be places you can afford to rent on that income – how can it be a living wage if you can’t find anywhere to live on it?’

One of those who contributed to the report’s recommendations on reforming social renting was Rob Gershon, Lead of the HQN Residents’ Network, who said: ‘I’ve always thought of myself as incredibly lucky to be a social housing tenant… On the two occasions I’ve come to rely on social housing, it has been there to make sure my family has had somewhere to live.’

The commission recommends:

  • Setting clearer standards
  • Ensuring speedier redress for individual complaints
  • Proactive enforcement of regulation to protect social renters
  • Giving residents a voice in landlord governance and decision-making
  • Giving residents a voice in decisions made by national, regional, and local government

Click here to download the full report.

Making council housebuilding great again

By Emma Lindley, HQN associate

As someone who has only been working in local government since January, the challenges facing councils to develop new homes has felt pretty overwhelming and impossible to navigate at times.

In my first few weeks, I was attending meetings on developing a council housebuilding company and desperately trying to get my head around how we build something when we have land and money in the General Fund, no borrowing capacity in the Housing Revenue Account but some land, and a proposed housing company with no access to cheap funding or land. And on top of that, working in an area of low value making it hard to achieve viability on sites.

I was badly in need of help from those in the know and those who were making it work. This is where the recent council housebuilding event organised by this network came in.

If I was struggling, surely others were too and, sure enough, a couple of weeks ago around 30 delegates attended an event which considered the opportunities and barriers to council housebuilding.

We heard from a range of speakers who took us through the options, the finances, legal issues, and shared what’s working for them and what’s not. Overall, I took away three things:

  1. Be really clear on what you want to achieve, you can build houses for a whole host of reasons: to generate a capital income, create a revenue stream, regenerate areas, replace outdated stock, increase density on sites, make best use of land, tackle other public policy issues such as enabling those with varying specialist needs to live independently for longer, meet a wider range of housing needs such as market and intermediate rent. What you certainly mustn’t do is set up a housing company just because everyone else is
  2. Identify the approach that best suits what you want to achieve above and don’t worry if this looks different to what everyone else is doing, there are so many options available
  3. Be in it for the long term. Getting a programme up and running is far from an overnight process; many councils have limited development experience in recent years (decades, even). Be clear from the outset on the timescales involved with the key players and persevere

If you’re thinking you wish you’d been at this event, then you’re in luck as we’re running it again in January – and there’s even an option to have a HQN associate deliver a workshop based on this event in-house, tailored to your needs.

No more massive homes, says council

A London borough has decided to ban the construction of massive houses, as it bids to save space for smaller, more affordable homes.

As part of its City Plan 2019-2040, Westminster City Council will cap the size of new homes at 150sq metres of living space – plenty, the local authority reckons, to ‘still enable generously sized homes to be developed to meet development from the prime market, but balances that against the other, more strategic housing need of the city’.

Clearly weary of enormous homes going up that house perhaps one or two very wealthy people, the council has been struck by the fact that the median house price in the borough is £1,054,400 but the average household income is £52,199, and is thus taking steps to fix things.

Cllr Richard Beddoe is thrilled with the plans, claiming: ‘We want Westminster to be home to thriving, mixed communities, not empty super-prime properties. That’s why we will be restricting the size of new luxury apartments and introducing a new extra bedroom policy to make it easier for families to extend their homes so they have enough space to stay living in Westminster and are not forced to move out.’

On top of all this, the council’s development plan contains a commitment to construct 29,900 homes by 2040 – 35% of which will be ‘affordable’.

Semi-laughably yet quite endearingly, earlier this year Westminster brought in a voluntary wealth tax which it hoped would be put towards easing homelessness in the area. All that was asked of the 15,600 wealthiest households is that they pay double council tax.

Unsurprisingly, only 2% have agreed to stump up the extra £833 a year.

Anyway, here’s a link to the council’s development plan. It’s 175 pages long so perhaps one to save for Christmas Day when everyone’s asleep in the afternoon.

Stress testing the business when everything is now a priority – good luck with that

By Alistair McIntosh, chief executive, HQN

Stress testing used to be so easy. You’d work out what could bring the business down and plug that into a model. Then you’d decide what you would stop doing or could sell off to stay in the game. It’s not so simple now.

What can you actually stop doing? After Grenfell, you may well have to spend more on safety. And the Green Paper wants you to sort out ASB. Then the tenants will be asked if they’d recommend you to their friends and family. So, you’ve got to be doing well. On top of that, the inspectors could be back to check up on you. I’m not seeing a lot of leeway to cut costs. Are you?

On the other side of the equation, what can you sell? The way to get around the rent cut was to build and sell homes. How’s that going? The answer is ‘slowly’ in many places. Of course, you can stand behind the professional advice that said this was a good idea. That might keep the regulator at bay for a bit. But you’ll still need to find the missing cash.

So, the business plans are getting shot by both sides. Thank goodness for Brexit. Is this the catch-all excuse that can be used to blame someone else for your woes? We’ve seen a few associations try this on with the regulator. They got short shrift. You need to do better than this. What goods and services are you bringing in? And how will Brexit affect these? You will need a few facts and figures to support your case.

Will councils be stress testing soon? It does look like they will face a lot more regulation under the Green Paper. We can see where one of the big stresses will come from. The housing revenue account is supposed to be ring fenced for council housing only. Have council bosses dipped into this fund to pay for other services? It wouldn’t be a surprise if they were robbing Peter to pay Paul, as councils are short of cash. But no housing inspector worth their salt would let this happen.

How do we keep and spend the money that is due to housing without crashing the council? Who wants to referee that clash?

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While we’re here, it seems remiss not to mention our Iron Grip service – the ideal way to get your board ready to meet the requirement to stress-test set out in the RSH Regulatory Code. Click here to access a nice PDF which explains everything simply and succinctly.

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