To receive the report of the Cabinet Member for Communities and Neighbourhoods and Cabinet Member for Planning and Housing Strategy which provides an update on the progress made towards the Housing, Homelessness and Rough Sleeping Strategy in Year One Including the Work on Recovery from COVID-19.
8.1 The Cabinet Member for Communities & Neighbourhoods, Councillor Watkins, introduced the report and highlighted key elements. She noted that this was the first yearly review of the Housing, Homeless and Rough Sleeping Strategy, and that this had been a busy and significant time in respect of this due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She thanked Officers in the housing team for their work, particularly during the first lockdown of the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, in bringing people indoors who were rough sleepers, and for work carried out in securing the £3.8 Million County-wide bid for the Next Steps programme which would see 51 extra units across the County, as well as providing extra capacity for Officers and support for affected Individuals. Councillor Watkins also noted the importance of driving up standards and informed the Committee of the appointment of the new Housing Innovation Manager who would be carrying out work in private sector enforcement amongst others. The Cabinet Member for Planning & Housing Strategy thanked staff in the Housing team for their work and noted that there were two new appointments in the team. He also added that housing was a very important issue for him and was pleased to note that the affordable housing target had been exceeded with the creation of 295 affordable homes in the last year.
8.2 The Chair agreed that housing was a key issue, noting that most of their case work as a Councillor concerned housing, that the Council could not have foreseen the importance of the strategy and how crucial it had become in the last year. They also commended the cross-party approach which had been taken to tackling housing issues. Councillor Stephens echoed his thanks to Council Officers for their work, credited Councilor Watkins and Councillor Gravells for briefing meetings which they had held and highlighted the importance of collaborative work going forward. In response to his queries Councillor Watkins and Officers responded as follows. Firstly, with regard to the lifting of the eviction ban in the future, he was advised that there was work being carried out in respect of this county-wide through the accommodation supply sale which was set up as part of the response to COVID-19. Various avenues were being explored through this, for example, utilising the number of Ministry of Defence properties in the City, and leasing properties. Moreover, Officers were also working with lettings agents county-wide, and, from this work anecdotal evidence suggested that a number of the proposed evictions concerned low priority groups and instances where the landlord wanted to move back into the property for example. Secondly, regarding assistance for people experiencing issues with mortgage defaults, it was noted that assistance was available on a national level through measures such as mortgage holiday breaks and the furlough scheme. Nonetheless, work was also being carried out by the housing team to draw up plans based on best practice for mortgage rescue alongside potentially working with lenders to secure accommodation. The creation of the new projects and strategy team was significant as it would enable work not only on strategy but also quick projects, for example, looking at best practice.
8.3 On the issue of moving individuals out of hotel accommodation, it was outlined that the 51 units from the Next Steps were anticipated to be ready by July 2021 at the latest. Alongside this, the county-wide partnership had signed up to a leasing scheme which would deliver 100 units, and it was anticipated that these would be available within the next 6 months. There were currently around 50 individuals in hotels, and thus, any surplus accommodation would mean that individuals could be moved out of B&Bs. Whilst there were some B&B providers who provided a good service, the aim would always be to move people out of B&Bs as this was not considered to the best option for placing people.
8.4 In response to Councillor Lewis’ query about the numbers of people who did not want to be placed in accommodation, Councillor Watkins explained that although there was a rough sleeper count, this number varied day by day. In terms of why some people did not want to be placed in accommodation, she advised that this was complex, and there was a myriad of possible reasons unique to the individual. The focus was on engaging with these individuals, being mindful and understanding of their lived experiences, and Officers on the ground made it part of their work to get to know the rough sleepers. Further, there was also a focus on looking at how to help individuals from ending up in situation where they become rough sleepers in the first place. Finally, whilst the Council was fully committed to the government ‘s pledge to end rough sleeping by 2024, eradicating rough sleeping was not always on the Council ‘s terms but rather also depended on the individuals concerned. Nonetheless, it was also about finding the correct interventions to help people where traditional approaches did not work.
8.5 In relation to Councillor Pullen’s query about the progress being made in private sector housing, Councillor Watkins stated that there were plans for work to carry on with driving up standards, as well as ongoing work around the incentives scheme.Furthermore, the Housing Innovation Manager outlined that within the Housing Projects and Strategy team there was a team member whose work focused on working with private landlords helping secure accommodation for families who presented as homeless or were threatened with homelessness. This remained an important piece of work looking at maximising the number of properties which could be secured through the private sector as the largest housing sector in the County and the Country. Further, there was also enforcement work being carried in respect of any rogue landlords of which they were a very small minority of all landlords.
8.6 The Head of Communities highlighted that the County-wide Housing Partnership had agreed for all the district Councils in the County and the County Council to contribute to a small team to support individuals who were not in accommodation under the Next Steps Programme, including, for example, individuals with support needs who were in the private sector and struggling with sustaining their tenancies. Likewise, there were plans for staff to be mobilised to work with individuals currently in hotel accommodation to ensure they were tenancy ready depending on the individuals. Lastly, support remained a key priority.
8.7 Both the Cabinet Member for Communities & Neighbourhoods who noted this would be her last Overview & Scrutiny Committee meeting and the Cabinet Member for Planning and Housing Strategy thanked the Chair and the Committee for the manner in which they received Cabinet Members attending the committee ‘s meetings.
8.8 RESOLVED:- that the Overview & Scrutiny Committee NOTE the report.