Agenda item

Housing and Homelessness Strategy (Agenda Item 7)

Report of Executive Member Growth, Charles Carter.


Councillor Bambridge presented the report on behalf of Councillor C Carter, Executive Member for Growth, in his absence.  He said it was a key policy document which set out the Council’s housing agenda for the next four years.


The Strategic Housing Manager set the national policy context of the document and the consultation process.  He gave a presentation (attached) which explained the huge changes in the housing agenda and the significant shifts in Government Policy. 
There were three priorities:  to prevent homelessness; to improve health outcomes through improved housing; and to provide strong support for housing growth.


The next step would be a public consultation for 28 days, after which the strategy would come back to Scrutiny in January/February 2017.


Councillor Jermy was disappointed that the relevant Cabinet member was not present again.  He welcomed the report which covered a lot of issues and dealt with a lot of housing problems.  It was easy to say that the solution was more houses, but there were other things that could be done.  There were numerous empty properties in the District and a large number of single occupant properties with spare rooms.  He asked if the Council would have its own version of Right to Buy and Help to Buy.  The report did not mention the housing mix.  It was important to provide the right sort of housing; there were no small, single storey homes available for instance.  He referred to page 40 and said more emphasis needed to be put on the fact that rents were out of control as a percentage of wages.


The Housing Manager agreed that empty properties needed to be looked at.  He was seeking a restructure of the housing service to bring in specialised officers, including enforcement officers and they would work to bring properties back into use.


The Strategic Housing Manager would incorporate information about tax changes to empty homes in the report.  There could be scope to introduce a rent/wage ratio.  He would seek to address that.  Some people were trapped in private rented accommodation and ways needed to be found to help them.  There was a new Rent to Buy scheme which offered reduced rent for five years giving occupants the opportunity to save and buy.  The Council did not have its own Help to Buy scheme.


The Chairman noted that not all areas needed smaller houses some villages had too many.


The Strategic Housing Manager said that he would look at the definition of starter homes to see if it gave scope for influence to meet local needs.


Councillor Webb asked about the Gypsy and Traveller research and was advised that the information would be included in the final document.  She thought that Members should be consulted on the full document.


Councillor Bambridge confirmed that he would ask the Executive Member for Growth to ensure that Members and Town and Parish Councils were consulted on the document.


Councillor Sharpe noted that the demographic analysis on page 39 gave different figures to the Local Plan and the new homes figures did not equate either.

The Strategic Housing Manager said he would ensure the figures were amended before the consultation commenced.


Councillor Clarke asked how the consultation would align with the Local Plan consultation which finished at the end of October.  He was advised that the two documents were similar but different.


Councillor M Chapman-Allen was pleased to see that priority would be given to armed forces personnel and hoped that would extend to those suffering from combat stress.  She asked about waiting times for occupational therapy.


The Housing Manager said that the waiting list figures for the disabled facilities grant would be amended as they were down to 85 following changes to procedure.  Currently there was a 150 day wait.  He wanted to remove the waiting list and have a scheduling system working with County Council colleagues.


Councillor M Chapman-Allen asked if the change in legislation regarding homelessness would take up all the housing stock, increase the bed and breakfast costs and reduce the chance of housing other people.  She was advised that the Housing Team would work with colleagues in the Housing Associations to prevent homelessness.


Councillor Oliver noted that there were a lot of objectives and focuses in the strategy.  He asked what the timelines were, especially with regard to enforcement.


The proposals for enforcement, new ways of working and the housing service redesign would be recommended to Council on 27 October 2016 with the aim of being implemented by the end of the calendar year.


The Chairman thanked the Officers for their report and asked that the Gypsy and Traveller information be sent out to all Members as soon as it was available.


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