HC/048/21 Q1 PERFORMANCE REPORT - HOUSING
N Beresford presented the Q1 Performance Report for Housing and asked if Committee had any questions.
Cllr Bassadone queried the figures for sheltered accommodation. N Beresford confirmed that the figures have fluctuated from period to period. There are examples of properties that have been advertised on more than 19 occasions without successful applicants being offered the property. There are some schemes that we are identifying as difficult to allocate, we need to make some difficult decisions on how we move forward with those schemes and also we have amended the capital threshold on the Housing Allocations Policy, which we hope will have a positive impact.
Cllr Bassadone wanted to check some of the figures in the report for the lifeline as they mention March. N Beresford confirmed they were an error and would provide up to date details.
Action: N Beresford
Cllr Adeleke mentioned that he had a number of questions; 1) is the installation of bathroom and kitchens still suspended, plus how are we dealing with the worst cases for example where someone doesn’t have running water, 2) the number of rough sleeper has reduced to three from what, and 3) we said we were looking at adaptations for some schemes and wondered if this was still under consideration. N Beresford confirmed that: 1) we are prioritising the repairs needed including the cases where improvements had previously been suspended, but in some cases were have having to identify alternative contractors, in terms of urgent repairs these have all been undertaken or alternative options would have to be considered, like decanting the tenants, where we were unable to find a solution, 2) in respect of rough sleeps the number has reduced from five to three, you may see more within the local community, but generally these are people who are perceived as sleeping rough, the figures have been validated by the Home Office so we are confident they are correct, 3) in respect of sheltered housing, N Beresford said that she assumes Cllr Adeleke means the repurposing or alternative options and confirmed these are being considered as part of the wider sheltered housing review, we need to consider what is feasible and plans will be worked up with external contractors.
Cllr Mahmood said that the number of people in temporary accommodation has gone up and asked what is driving that. N Beresford advised that it was a number of factors, we were responding to the Government task of bringing everyone in, which meant a significant number of households coming into temporary accommodation. We still have 38 households remaining who were brought in during that period and are working closely with other services, County, Public Health colleagues, MHCLG and Homes England, to identify grant funding options to look at step down or move on accommodation. We are also seeing the impact of Covid which has meant a loss of accommodation in the private sector, we are currently working with about 48 households who are set to lose their accommodation in the private sector by November. We are working really hard with the landlord to ensure that as many tenancies can be sustained, but a high number of private sector landlords are looking to discharge their interest in property due to their own circumstances that have come about through the pandemic. There are also a high number of increased relationship breakdowns and there has been an increase in domestic abuse, which because of the changes that came into effect in July 2021, means they are automatically considered to be in priority need. The threshold for domestic abuse has been widened and now includes things like coercive control, financial control and strangulation, which previously wasn’t an offence, so this widens the number of clients who would be considered automatically eligible for housing and access to temporary accommodation.
Cllr Mahmood enquired about whether the Council had any HMO’s for single people to live in and if we have considered converting sheltered housing for single people or couples. Cllr Griffiths asked that Members waited until the review came out so that we are not second guessing the outcome, if what you are suggesting isn’t in that review then that would be the time to look at this. N Beresford confirmed that the Council does not have any HMO’s within its stock, we do have three HMO type hostels within our temporary accommodation, but it’s very challenging to manage, plus during the pandemic it was extremely difficult as there was a clear steer from the Government that households should not be sharing facilities, which meant we had to move households into dispersed accommodation and we did have to utilise some of the sheltered housing stock for temporary accommodation and did not feel that the report would recommend using sheltered for HMO’s for these reasons. Our current focus is licensing the HMO’s we have in the Borough rather than creating more HMO’s within our stock.
Cllr Freedman queried the Government funding of £8.6b announced this week for affordable housing and wondered if we are getting any of it. M Gaynor replied that the Government regularly comes up with its annual affordable housing programme, the largest recipients are housing associations who are in a different position financially and are able to borrow more and charge higher rents. Our aim is to get social rent grant, which they are providing, it’s a bigger amount, as the rents are lower we will be seeking to demonstrate, partly because of our successful programme, that Homes England will be very interested working with us, if we can increase the number of homes, in particular social rented, we will. We will certainly try and get our share of the affordable housing grant, but we have a number of active housing associations, like Hightown, Thrive and Watford Community Housing, who will definitely want to have some of that funding, which will mean that we will benefit in that way.
Cllr Hollinghurst mentioned that until recently his wife and himself had a business in Dunstable and if you have a business you are around day and night, you see an awful lot of things going on and asked Officers to consider that there may be links with HMO’s and modern slavery. It may be less likely in Hemel Hempstead, but it’s something to consider with accommodation above shops. N Beresford advised that the work undertaken in the Private Sector Housing Team, we work very closely with the Community Safety Team and we have a Service Level Agreement with Trading Standards and Immigration Services, so we are receiving regular updates to any properties or business premises where we believe there may be an issue surrounding modern slavery. We monitor them very closely with comings and goings, employment agreements, contract agreements and accommodations agreements so we are very mindful of these issues.
Cllr Adeleke mentioned that was a very interesting question raised by Cllr Hollinghurst and was aware you are working hard, some Councils in London have Whistleblowers for this purpose and wondered if it’s something that we’ve explored. N Beresford said that the point would be considered by the team, but we have a very small team in comparison to the London Borough’s and we do need to focus on the key priorities, which is reviewing and responding to customer service requests, ensuring that all identified and suspected HMO’s within the Borough are licenced and tackling empty homes. We also need to look at how we prioritise and resource the changing legislative areas within private sector housing. L Warden added that there is quite a lot of work that’s been happening within the Community Safety Team and Herts County Council in relation to things like modern slavery, who have funded an organisation called the Shiva Foundation. They have been leading across the County, looking at procurement exercises, looking outside the private sector, it’s definitely on our radar and we are working alongside Natasha’s team making sure appropriate action is taken where required.
The Chairman wanted to know more about the award that we’ve won for the building in Berkhamsted as it’s important to celebrate success. N Beresford said this is Cornmill Court in Berkhamsted, it was an award from Hertfordshire Association of Architects for the conservation work carried out on site and the properties that are funding the High Street, so there was a second award from the Berkhamsted Citizens Association and there may be further good news as since writing this report there has been more award nominations in recognition of the work that we do.
The Chairman asked who we are assessed against for these awards. N Beresford advised that we are up against some of the larger housing providers, so for a small development team we are doing extremely good work with really great outcomes. M Gaynor mentioned that for one of the awards we were up against some of the bigger developers in the private sector. The Chairman said it’s good to highlight some of the work we do, not just to Members, but everyone gets to see and really appreciate the work that you do and the quality as you are not just providing homes, you’re going over and above. The Chairman added that for any Members who hadn’t been it’s worth taking a drive to the Martindale scheme as it’s an absolutely beautiful development, you can’t differentiate between the social and private housing, which is exactly what we want.
The Chairman recalled a question from earlier that she wanted to ask, about the slippages on building, this sector was open during most of the pandemic and wanted to understand the route cause of the slippages, was it due to material supply or labour supply and will we be able to catch up so that it doesn’t become a slippage that we move from year to year. M Gaynor advised that the initial slippage was due to the whole of the building industry being stopped for a while, but we quickly re-mobilised, the issues of delays are mixed, the time to get planning permission, the shortage of skilled labour and both shortage and increasing costs of supplies have contributed, it’s likely that we will be able to catch up, but there will be some increase in costs associated with that. We have a very effective tendering process to make sure we get value for money, but it’s always a balance between quality and cost, with quality quite often coming first because these homes need to last 60 years or more.