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Urgent Call For More Social Housing In Wyre Forest

Wyre Forest Labour today made a call for more social housing to be built in the District to address the urgent crisis in social housing.

As a result of Tory Govt policy, and District Council inaction on affordable housing, many local people are struggling to afford their rent, buy a house, or even make it on to the housing waiting list. We even have 1400 homes in the private rented sector in need of repair. Why should people be forced to live like this? It's nothing short of a scandal in 21st Century Britain, one of the so-called richest countries in the world.

Wyre Forest has some 6,000 households in urgent need of an affordable home and little is being done about it. You can read the headlines and report provided by Jamie Shaw, Labour Councillor, at the foot if this article following Labour's comments on the crisis.

Stephen Brown, Labour spokesperson said: "I am grateful to Jamie Shaw, Labour District Councillor, for highlighting the scale of this issue here in Wyre Forest in his report. Jamie has long been a champion of social housing and standing up for local people when it comes to housing needs. Unfortunately, What we see in Wyre Forest is the sheer inadequacy of both Tory Govt policy and District Council willingness to address the urgent crisis in affordable rented social housing in Wyre Forest.

"We need 500 new truly affordable homes built every year, and will get 100 if we're lucky. The District has a median yearly income level of £18,000, with at least 8,000 earning low wages, and a waiting list of 3,000 households in need of affordable homes and which in reality is double that. The Local Plan that will go nowhere near to resolving this issue. The maths don't stack up and no wonder we've got a local housing crisis if this is the kind of thing on offer.

"This crisis has originated in Downing Street thanks to Theresa May and our MP Mark Garnier, and is exacerbated by the Tory council. Why so you may ask? Tory Govt housing policy has deliberately created a situation forcing people into an improperly regulated housing market at rents they can't really afford.

"Worse still, is that rogue landlords are being subsidised by taxpayers. Landlords are making a tidy profit at our expense and you can include Tory landlord MP's in that. Tory MP landlords who voted against a Labour Parliamentary motion for better protection for tenants. It's a local and national disgrace.

"Govt could better use the £2.6billion a year it hands to those private rouge landlords by giving it to councils to build truly affordable rented housing, including here in Wyre Forest. In addition to that, scrapping the ridiculous formula it uses to judge what's affordable, and which is based on private landlords greed rather than real wages, it should be a no brainer. After all, Govt has capped housing benefit yet in contradiction to that is driving up rents.

"Who is benefiting? Landlords of course and it's also why homelessness is rising. In any case, £2.6billion would build 500,000 homes in 5 years nationally and we'd get our fair share. That's what Labour would do if in Government. If we ran the council you can be sure we'd make building such affordable homes more of a priority issue too, starting with those brownfield sites. We should be building homes fit for local people to live in".

Report Headlines include:

  1. Just how many new households need affordable housing every year - some 470.
  2. The massaging of the figures for people 'In need' of housing, which currently stands at 3,000 households but more realistically stands at 6,000. Households were deleted because there was simply 'no chance' of ever getting an affordable rented home rather than them not being in need.
  3. That 6,000 homes are rented social housing, mainly from Community Housing, out of a total of 46,000 properties in Wyre Forest; and this is clearly insufficient and needs to double to 12,000 (see below*) to address the clear need.
  4. Substandard properties in the private rented sector total 1400. How much taxpayers money is being sent providing an income for rogue landlords? The national figure is £2.6billion per year of public subsidy to such rogue landlords. Enough to build 500,00 affordable homes over 5 years (5 x £2.6billion).
  5. Tory Govt policy which sets 'affordable' rent at 80% of private sector renders it unaffordable in an area with a median income of £18,000 per year. We have over 8,000 on minimum wage so how are they supposed to afford rent if £130 per week is set as 'affordable' level? A third can't - total employed in Wyre Forest is 42,000 making 14,000* potentially in need of affordable homes.  Govt policy forces Housing Assoc to charge this so-called 'affordable' rent. It's a tool to drive people into the private sector and unsuitable accommodation. No surprise Tories voted against a Labour motion in Parliament to force landlords to make homes safe. Many Tory MP's are such landlords.
  6. Shared ownership is not working. There's little demand despite Govt pressure to build it. It can also tie in people to a property they may need to move on from preventing movement in the market. Evidence dictates that people much prefer more affordable rented social housing accommodation.
  7. The 'Local Plan' on social housing will fail, it will be woefully inadequate in numbers. Not only that but not enough social housing of even those built may be truly affordable.
  8. Case studies included.

Housing Need in Wyre Forest - Report by Jamie Shaw, Labour Councillor:

Rate of Household Formation

Every year in Wyre Forest, 940 new households seek accommodation in the district. 50% of them cannot afford to buy a house priced at £130,000.

Waiting List in Wyre Forest

The number of households seeking a rented property from a housing association in Wyre Forest has been as high as 6,000 within the last six years. Since then, Wyre Forest District Council has reduced the number on the Waiting List by 50% on two occasions. There was no sudden provision of houses; instead, the district council told half the households on the list that, for them, there was no hope of a property ever becoming available and their names were deleted. Currently there are just over 3,000 registered applications.

Low Wage Wyre Forest

Average work place remuneration in Wyre Forest is £18,000. This level of remuneration for those residents whose employment is actually located in the district places Wyre Forest in an official “low waged area” category. Also, there are areas of significant economic and social deprivation, most notably in the former Oldington & Foley Park ward, which consistently featured in the top twenty most deprived wards in the country. (“Country” not “county”)

Homes for Rent

There are 12,000 homes for rent, 26% of Wyre Forest’s 46,000 properties. However, only half of the 12,000 are owned by housing associations; the remainder are privately rented. The privately rented sector grew significantly in Wyre Forest under the policies of the Coalition and Cameron governments, despite this sector having the by far the worst record of disrepair,nationally and locally. Currently, in Wyre Forest, 1,400 privately rented properties are listed by the council as being in disrepair. Wyre Forest Community Housing, to which the council’s housing stock was transferred in 2000, is by far the biggest housing association provider in the district.

Social & Affordable Rent and Shared Ownership

The reference point for the calculation of both “social” and “affordable” rents is the average rental in the private sector in the relevant housing authority area. The figure for Wyre Forest is c£130 per week. In Wyre Forest a social rent could be 50% cheaper. However, the Coalition Government introduced the “affordable” rent, which sought to increase rents in the public rental sector to 80% of the private rate.  Unsurprisingly in a low wage area, significant numbers of Wyre Forest households cannot afford “affordable” rents. To return to the 940 new households per annum seeking accommodation, well over a third could not afford the “affordable rent” on a one or two-bedroomed apartment. The Coalition, Cameron and May governments have taken measures to force housing associations to charge “affordable”rents, such as making capital grants dependent on rent levels.

Shared ownership, ie, part-rent, part-buy occupancy, is also favoured by Government. Housing associations are required to transfer some previously wholly- rented properties to this tenure when they become vacant. Also, they are required to include the tenure in their new-build programmes. This government policy is the reason why properties lie vacant for months in low income Wyre Forest. A good example is the recently built properties on the former Reilloc Chain site on Stourport Road, Kidderminster. The houses in the new street to the rear of the development, Collier Close, are rent-only; they were filled immediately. The houses along Stourport Road are part-rent, part-buy; some stood empty for well over a year after completion.

A current example of the relative lack of demand for shared ownership comes from the report of the Strategic Housing Manager to the Planning committee on 15th August 2017. Referring to a specific area of Kidderminster, she identified a need for forty-four “affordable houses”,only one of was which recommended for shared ownership.

Current Demand and Supply

The decreasing size of households and “benefit reform” has had a significant effect on the sizes of property sought. Current advice is that 50% percent of new-build should be two-bedroomed, 33%, one-bedroomed and only 17% three-bedroomed. Houses can be built in two ways. A housing association may have the resources to fund a development by itself. Thus, in August 2017, Wyre Forest Community Housing gained planning approval the construction of fifteen homes at Comberton Place, Kidderminster. The alternative means is by exercise of the district council’s power to require a development of ten or more houses, (in Kidderminster and Stourport), to contain up to 30% as social housing, (to be purchased and managed by a housing association). Probably the least recognised socially rented houses within an otherwise private development in Wyre Forest are part of the Lichfield Basin former “brownfield” site in Stourport, a mixed-tenure, mixed social-class community.

The Local Plan 2016-34

6,000 homes are proposed to be constructed within this period, an average of 300 annually. Assessing real need, planning officers find that 149 properties in each 300 should be “affordable”. However, they do not consider that this target is realistic, given current national housing policies. Therefore the Plan’s current recommendation is for a target of 100 perannum. Moreover, again bowing to government policy, 35 in every 100 are identified as shared ownership properties. That leaves just 65 for rent, the proportion at “social” and “affordable” levels not being specified. 

Case Studies:

Case Study 1 – A woman with a school-age child and a three year-old was required to leave her privately-rented house after the landlord refused to renew the tenancy because part of her rent was funded by Housing Benefit after her partner left the household. The only offer of socially rented accommodation was a flat, which she turned down because there was no secure area for her children to play. With the aid of a district council housing officer, another privately-rented property, was found, but at the other end of town, and only for a temporary period, causing a problem in getting the child to school on time.

Case Study 2 – An elderly couple, both suffering from degenerative illnesses, sought a move from their mobile home on a Stourport site. After two years, they were still in their caravan. A Housing Needs officer suggested that they consider Community Housing’s new assisted living complex, Berrington Court. Unfortunately, the service charges required in addition to the rent were too expensive for the move to take place.

Case Study 3 – A couple with two children live in an upstairs, one-bedroomed, Community Housing flat. One adult and one child suffer from medical conditions which have been confirmed by doctors to have been exacerbated by the family’s current accommodation. However, the advice from Housing Needs is that there are so many other needy families ahead of them in the queue that they are likely only to be successful in moving to a ground floor flat in the foreseeable future.

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