Thursday, 10 February 2011

Campaigning for more for support older tenants and families in housing need

Locally one of the issues I have actively campaigned on is in relation to overcrowding. This is a significant issue in Reading where we have a real shortage of affordable housing for families. I care about it because i have seen in my own ward the damage overcrowding does to the health and well children and families in our area.

We are a small Borough geographically so we do not have lots of sites available for big housing developments so it is essential we make the best use of the housing we have already got. By this I mean best use of housing in all sectors - privately rented, council-owned, housing association and empty properties

We do not only lack affordable housing but in particular family-sized homes. The Council's stock of family-sized housing is much smaller thanks to the disastrous combination of the Right To Buy policy plus the fact that under Labour no new Council houses were built.

Another key factor has been the fact that around 90% of new housing built in the past few years has been flats rather than houses.

I investigated the extent of the problems this caused when I was in opposition when questions to Council I tabled in 2009 revealed:
'Average wait time for a three bed Council/RSL property in Reading is a shocking 20 months
Average wait time for a four bed Council property in Reading is currently 22 months
435 council homes have been sold off by RBC since 1997'
As I commented at the time:
'These figures confirm my experience supporting constituents in the ward: there is a chronic under-supply of affordable family-sized (3 and 4 bed) housing in Reading and the time some families are having to wait for housing is far too long.'

I used this information as Chair of Scrutiny to champion action to help families stuck in overcrowded accommodation.

I am pleased to say I have been able to help a small number of families who were previously overcrowded but I am conscious that there are hundreds more families who need my help and support so I must keep campaigning in my role as Lead Councillor.

The flip sized of overcrowding in under-occupancy where family-sized houses are not fully-occupied. This is a very sensitive issue as many people are understandably keen to stay in homes they have lived in for many years.  However, as people get older they often find they are unable to manage larger properties and smaller properties are more suitable and for example cheaper to heat. The need to give older people more housing choice is one of the reasons I have been so keen to champion new developments of extra-care Council housing currently under construction in the Town.

For the reasons I outlined above it is incumbent on the Council to ensure that it is utilising all housing stock to address housing need most effectively, so we must look at how we reduce under-occupancy.

Why blog this today? Well, last month Grant Shapps MP, Minister for Housing announced £13 million pounds worth of additional funding for councils to help older tenants move into more suitable accommodation.

This announcement follows research commissioned by Mr Shapps into the reasons why older people often do not want to move. I was disappointed to learn that Reading Borough Council was not one of the 50 councils which were set to benefit from this additional cash as there are good reasons why we could put it to good use:
  • The high levels of pressure on the Council housing stock, especially in relation to large family sized units.
  • The disproportionate number of elderly tenants who are on a low income and would struggle to maintain larger properties
In Reading it is estimated that 26% (35) of Local Authority-owned four-bed properties are under occupied and in the last three years, only 19 under occupied properties have been released via a transfer to a smaller property. As a result of this the Council is already undertaking a review of incentives and our approach to reduce under-occupancy.

Our recently adopted Housing Strategy which enjoys cross-Party support identifies the following priorities in relation to this issue:
  • Tackling under occupation in our own stock
  • Approaching households on the waiting list requiring large family units on a case-by-case basis to assess other options to reduce over crowding, for example, assisting adult dependants into their own tenancy
  • Assessing a household’s current property for practical measures to increase space and reduce over-crowding
I have written to Mr Shapps and our two local MPs today arguing that Reading should benefit from additional support so the Council can better support older tenants find alternative accommodation and the hundreds of families in desperate need of family-sized housing. I really hope we can gain their support on this.

No comments:

Post a Comment