Please find attached a pack of the 2nd October 2015 Inquiry Day, together with the final report. A presentation for this item will be sent out shortly to be given at the meeting by Councillor Paul Smith (Cabinet Member for Homes).
The Scrutiny Commission received a presentation on the above issue from Paul Smith (Cabinet Member for Homes) entitled “Tackling Bristol’s Housing Crisis – the First Six Months”.
During this presentation, he made the following points:
(1) Consultation had taken place with tenant groups, landlords, Housing Associations, developers and builders;
(2) An advisory group comprising experts and academia had just been established;
(3) Despite the population growing in the last year by 6,800, only 460 extra homes had been built;
(4) Over 500 families were in temporary accommodation;
(5) Whilst the Chancellor’s announcements had helped in some respects (ie pay to stay now being voluntary, high value home sales for right to buy being out back to 2018), there were nevertheless significant problems (ie viability assessments, welfare reforms, the spatial plan). Since average rents were £1,000, the operating environment for people was not great;
(6) There remained 550 empty homes as at 2015/16;
(7) The Council’s priorities for 2015 were to build new homes, reduce temporary accommodation, reduce the number of empty homes and improve standards in PRS;
(8) 80 hectares of land had been taken off the market to build new homes. Sites in Hengrove and Brislington had been given to Housing Associations. Private housing would be used to subsidise Council housing;
(9) Members’ attention was drawn to forthcoming schemes in Lawrence Weston and Dunmail and in the Corporate Private Rented sector (ie Redcliff Quarter);
(10) Whilst there were 6203 schemes in total, over half of these were from Hengrove and Temple Quarter – there were also smaller community led schemes for 1748 affordable homes;
(11) A new Housing Delivery Company was being set up to project manage housing on land;
(12) Issues relating to the legal options and relationship with the Council (ie shares, community interest etc) would be considered in a report to Cabinet in February 2017;
(13) 6 empty properties had been let to housing charities on a peppercorn rent;
(14) The Council was also focusing on long-term voids and how to provide more structured temporary accommodation (ie in a block rather than singly), as well as re-engineering the way tenants were supported to intervene at the earliest possible opportunity to prevent eviction;
(15) It was estimated that 250 families would be affected by a benefit cap. This could be a problem in early 2017;
(16) Officers were working with landlords across the city to carry out necessary improvements on properties;
(17) There was also a rogue landlord programme which included the extension of HMO’s to smaller units and the adoption of a lettings charter;
(18) The Bristol Living Rent was being set up as a means of getting balanced communities and avoid demeaning people;
(19) Other key areas of work included balancing the HRA, further work in tenant involvement and empowerment, work with areas such as health and sustainability, increasing density and urbanisation, as well as a piece of research to assess how realistic viability assessments were. The administration would like viability assessments to be made public;
(20) It was important to build the right housing for the right people in the city. The Council could learn a lot from places such as Germany, France and the Netherlands to increase property numbers, whilst ensuring communities had control of schemes, that existing standards were maintained and that environmentally sustainable schemes were created;
(21) It was important to obtain the maximum value from land.
Scrutiny Commission Members made the following comments:
(22) Work was required to stop private landlords converting properties into HMO’s simply to increase profit at the expense of families who could end up being evicted;
(23) Whilst there were 521 families in temporary accommodation, there were 513 void properties which could virtually solve this problem;
(24) Pre-exit interviews of tenants would help with re-lets of properties;
(25) There was a lot of temporary accommodation in Fishponds, some of which was poor quality. Consideration should be given to the possible use of new temporary build and to creating affordable starter homes in the social housing sector – the lack of affordable housing in schemes such as the upcoming Chocolate Factory planning application was a sign that this needed to be addressed;
(26) Further work was required in terms of issues of viability and affordability and the standards that needed to be met, as well as to the need to link number of properties to issues such as density, quality and community;
(27) It was important to use the board consensus that existed across all political parties on this issue to lobby Central Government for change.
In response to Scrutiny Commission Members’ questions, the Cabinet Member for Homes made the following points:
(28) If proof of tenants’ regular payments could be shown, this could underpin a mortgage application and would remove rental properties from the system and free up properties;
(29) Work was being carried out with landlords to reduce the number of properties converted into HMO’s;
(30) There were 4 million people living in temporary accommodation but since about half in work, if a means could be found to make it affordable for them to live in permanent housing, this would save money;
(31) A report would be submitted to the Cabinet Member in December 2016 which examining schemes with properties built with timber frames in Brighton and Kent;
(32) A scheme of land aid was being developed for early 2017 by which a Property Developers Trust would use money to pay for property developers;
(33) Since developers were able to make a 20% profit before a scheme became viable, the process was heavily stacked in favour of developers. In certain instances, both he and the Mayor had discussed schemes with developers if they felt further affordable housing could be provided;
(34) A compulsory purchase scheme across the city in certain situations was being considered.
Officers made the following points:
(35) Whilst 4 years ago there were 3,000 social rented homes, these numbers had now decreased to 1600/1700;
(36) The Credit Agency Experion was including rent re-payments as part of their credit rating for people trying to get permanent accommodation.