Cabinet Member for Housing
120.1 Councillor Jan Osborne presented the report and informed Council that she was extremely pleased to be presenting two new strategies for adoption. The first ever Joint Homes and Housing Strategy and the Homelessness Reduction and Rough Sleeping Strategy.
120.2 Firstly Councillor Osborne summarised the Joint Homes and Housing Strategy and informed Council that everyone deserved somewhere to live and call home, however, with residents facing an almost unprecedented set of housing market circumstances, which combined, made it very difficult especially for low earners and first time buyers to find somewhere to call home, she believed that this Strategy would provide the right direction and level of accountability to realise the 9 aims set out in the document. These aims were backed up with a comprehensive set of action plans.
120.3 The actions were not limited to what only the Council could achieve but also what could be achieved by working with all stakeholders involved in creating and sustaining a vibrant and accessible housing market. The Strategy also committed the Council to working with anyone wanting to develop and deliver the right homes in the right places. With such an ambitious housing vision it was also important to stress that this was a long-term commitment to be delivered over the next five years.
120.4 Councillor Osborne then went on to summarise the Homelessness Reduction and Rough Sleeping Strategy. She informed Members that the Council was required to publish a review of homelessness for the district and a strategy focussed on tackling homelessness every five years. This Strategy has taken into consideration the new Homelessness Reduction Act which was introduced earlier in the year. Since the introduction of the Act, the Housing Team had seen an unprecedented increase in workloads far above what was predicted. However, despite this the Housing Team have remained focussed on providing the highest possible service to residents and have prevented or relieved homelessness in over 130 cases since the Act came into effect.
120.5 The review of the last 5 years has shown significant work has been undertaken to resolve homelessness issues including accessing funding from local government to tackle rough sleeping, successfully preventing homelessness in the private sector and preventing and relieving homelessness in more than 1,800 cases. The introduction of this Strategy will drive the development of the housing solutions over the next 5 years to ensure homelessness is prevented wherever possible.
120.6 Councillor Osborne then MOVED the recommendations in the report which Councillor Ridley SECONDED.
120.7 Councillor Ridley queried why Babergh’s homeless applications were so much higher than Mid Suffolk’s?
120.8 In response the Corporate Manager for Housing Solutions informed Council that historically this was because both Councils reported their figures in different ways. However, the Councils were now reporting their figures in the same way and since the implementation of the Homelessness Reduction Act there has only been a minor difference in figures of approximately 30 over the last eleven months.
120.9 Councillor Hinton queried why the figures did not add up and also why people outside of the area appeared to be allocated housing in the district when local people were also desperately waiting for housing?
120.10 In response Councillor Jan Osborne stated that the figures were not meant to add up. The figure of 695 were the homeless applications taken by Babergh, the figure of 405 were those that the Council had a rehousing duty for and the figure of 428 were the number of cases where homelessness had been relieved. In relation to the people moving in and out of the area this is part of the current allocations policy which does need to be reviewed.
120.11 Councillor Cresswell queried what the difference was between homelessness being relieved and homelessness being prevented.
120.12 In response Councillor Osborne stated that under the old legislation the Council only took a homeless application if it was believed that the Council owed them a duty under this strict criteria. Apart from this, the Council had undertaken a lot of work with people that were not owed a duty under the legislation and these were the people that the Council have prevented or relieved homelessness for by securing either private rented, supported housing or lodgings for them. The figure of 405 was related to the number of people placed in temporary housing and who have subsequently been rehoused.
120.13 Councillor Cresswell also asked why the report stated that there were no rough sleepers in the area and asked whether Councillor Osborne would support the campaign to suspend the right to buy on Council housing?
120.14 In response Councillor Osborne stated that where there were rough sleepers who had refused to engage with the Council, therefore the Council could not record them as rough sleepers. However, an outreach officer from Bury did go out on a regular basis to try to talk to the people who are sleeping rough and mental health services were also involved. In respect of the Right to Buy policy, Councillor Osborne stated that she personally had never agreed with it and had made strong representation about it to central government.
120.15 Councillor Cresswell sought further clarification as to whether Councillor Osborne was seeking to increase Council housing stock and felt that some of the temporary accommodation units were not fit for purpose.
120.16 Councillor Osborne in response stated that she would discuss the issue of the temporary accommodation with Councillor Cresswell outside of the meeting. With regard to the housing stock, the current forecast for the closing stock for 19/20 was 3478 which was definitely an increase from the previous figure. With the removal of the borrowing cap the next Administration would be able to take a decision on how many houses they may wish to acquire and build.
120.17 Councillor Hurren asked whether there would be any point in lobbying the government to reintroduce local connection?
120.18 In reply, Councillor Osborne said that she had mixed feeling about this and felt that there should be a percentage of homes for local connection, however social housing was about provision for people in need and not just about where they live so there should be a combination of both.
120.19 Councillor Parker asked how easy was it to use compulsory purchase order powers and whether the Council had used these powers?
120.20 In response the Assistant Director for Communities explained to Council that the powers were incredibly difficult, time consuming and complicated and even though the Government had simplified the process it was very difficult to unblock stalled sites.
By unanimous vote
It was Resolved:-
(i) That the Homes and Housing Strategy (2019-2024) and associated action plans for implementation be approved.
(ii) That the Homelessness Reduction and Rough Sleeping Strategy (2019-2024) and associated action plans for implementation be approved.
(iii) That the Assistant Director for Housing in consultation with the Cabinet Member for Housing, be authorised to make future minor amendments and updates to the strategies and action plans, where required and appropriate.