I’ve noticed an increasing number of articles in the local press about homelessness, and I doubt there are many of you reading this who will not be aware of the ongoing national debate about the shortage of new homes being built in England.
I’m well aware the allocation of land for new housing is an emotive subject, but there is little disagreement about the fact that the rate of house building has failed to keep pace with demand. This is evidenced by the lack of accessibility for first-time buyers and the rising costs for tenants in both private rented and social sectors.
On the first point, for example, I speak to many parents who have waved their adult children off to university, only to find them returning home three or four years later as a result of their inability to afford high rents or realise their ambition to buy a house. Or, I guess they might just like the benefits of living at home! The good news, in one sense, is that these ‘hidden households’ in the technical jargon, do have somewhere to stay.
On the second point, my housing team is at the sharp end of dealing with families who are no longer able to pay the higher rents being sought by private landlords and so present themselves at our reception counter seeking help. There are heart breaking stories to be told – many of those asking for help are local families with young children at local schools who, through no fault of their own, find themselves at the mercy of the Council. The best we can do to immediately help is provide access to temporary accommodation as a stop gap to being able to move to new private rented accommodation or to an affordable home provide by one of our housing associations with property in the district. Sadly, the current supply of affordable housing is limited and families often have very long waits before being able to find a settled home, and the number of approaches made to the housing team has risen from 79 in April to 136 in July.
The commitment, compassion and resilience of the housing team in dealing with homeless families is second to none, but our options are limited. We’re working hard to find better temporary accommodation, but often the only option is to place families in bed and breakfasts outside the district. From a financial perspective (and we can’t avoid taking this into account) B&B accommodation is expensive, placing huge pressures on our budget, but from a personal perspective it can’t be right to uproot a family with local ties and kids at the local school to accommodation outside the district, often many miles away.
I’d like to believe the work we are doing to improve the situation for homeless families will have an immediate and positive effect, but I am only too well aware of the increasing numbers of people turning-up at reception asking for help, and the bigger picture message from government that problems of affordability and homelessness are likely to persist for many years to come.
I hope everyone has a great summer holiday.