A rather sarcastic appraisal of why the number of homeless households has increased

You could have blown me down with a feather! Who would have thought that the number of households that local councils have accepted as homeless would have increased by 10% over the last year.

All the warnings about the ineffectiveness costly Starter Homes initiative in dealing with the housing crisis, the distraction of the extension of the Right to Buy to housing associations, and a range of other measures that have not addressed issues of supply and affordability, could not have been anything but scaremongering.

Who could possibly have predicted that the housing crisis was only going to get worse?

There remains little to do but wait with hope that this trend now reverses itself, that without state intervention the housing market will get back under some control on its own accord, that the number of homeless households will fall over the next year, and that we will end up with decent homes for all. What could possibly not work?

I despair more and more about the government’s handling of the crisis over funding for specialist supported housing

Talk about creating unnecessary work, uncertainty and a loss of confidence! The government is in a complete mess over the decision to cap rents in specialist supported housing services to that of the Local Housing Allowance from 2019/20.

This has been the most common theme I have written about on this blog since the beginning of 2016. See here, here and here, for some examples, and here for my take on the government’s most recent announcement.

It is an example of a policy announcement without any due diligence or thought being given to the implications.

The government has spent the better part of a year trying to find a way to dig it itself out of the hole it has found itself in, and a couple of weeks ago said a special fund would be made available to local authorities to make up the shortfall needed to fund specialist supported housing that will inevitably result once this measure is implemented.

Now we hear that ministers are considering additional regulations that will force local authorities to spend any extra money it receives on meeting the costs of specialist supported housing.

The money it is going to make available will be ring fenced for an undefined period but, based on the government’s track record, that ring fence is likely to be removed at some point just as the previous funding, Supporting People, had its ring fence removed with predictable consequences. We saw the slashing of funding for special supported housing (not so much in Brighton and Hove or in East Sussex whether the local authorities have shown commendable foresight in preserving the majority of funding), but nationwide we saw the closure of many schemes.

Now the word is that ministers are considering requiring councils to provide “certain types of housing” meaning, specialist supported housing.

I’ve got a novel idea for how the financial viability of these essential services could be stabilised: the government could withdraw its original announcement relating to the cap, and we wouldn’t be facing this potential disaster.

Ronald Reagan once said that the most terrifying nine words in the English language are: “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”

In relation to specialist supported housing, he got it spot on.

Visible rough sleeping is a direct consequence of austerity

(This item first appeared in the Brighton Argus on 29th September 2016)

People living in tents in Brighton town centre should come as no surprise to anyone. It is a direct consequence of the housing crisis we are experiencing, not least in the south east.

The cost of renting a one bedroom flat in Brighton is now, on average, a little short of £1000 per month, well above the Local Housing Allowance of £612 per month, the amount that people on benefits can claim towards the rent of a one bedroom flat. The LHA has been frozen by central government making accommodation even more unaffordable

The rough sleeping situation in Brighton is more visible than ever before and, notwithstanding the excellent work of the City Council, several charities and others, the numbers on the streets can be expected to increase, an obvious and direct consequence of austerity.

Safety nets are under threat, and many have closed across the country. While those that remain work well for the lucky few, even they are now at risk from cuts and a government imposed cap on charges.

In the past I have been accused of scaremongering. However, the number and high-profile of those on our streets lends support to previous warnings regarding cuts to services and welfare benefits.

Needles in the parks is not something that should be confused with rough sleeping. Drug use impacts on people of all classes, housed or homeless, but needles disposed of carelessly should be condemned by all, as they pose a danger to all, not least rough sleepers.

Please urge your MP to support Bob Blackman’s Bill so no homeless person is turned away

No One Turned Away, a campaign launched by Crisis, is calling for every homeless person who approaches their council to get the help they need. Homeless people can be turned away with little or no help by councils as they are not considered a ‘priority’, even though they have nowhere else to stay.

Bob Blackman MP

Bob Blackman MP

Now Conservative MP Bob Blackman has tabled a Homelessness Reduction Bill to improve the support that homeless people receive.  There are some concerns regarding ‘intentionality’ (for example, is someone intentionally homeless for not engaging, which could be a problem with very chaotic or vulnerable clients) but BHT will lobby separately on this.

On Friday 28 October MPs will debate the Bill that could help stop homeless people in England getting turned away when they approach their council.

But unless 100 or more MPs attend the debate, parliamentary rules mean that just one MP can kill the bill.

Already, of the six MP’s in the areas where BHT works, two have said that they will attend the debate:

  • Caroline Lucas (Brighton Pavilion)
  • Peter Kyle (Hove)

Caroline Ansell (Eastbourne) has said she supports the principle of the Bill, as does the government, but she won’t be attending as she has a prior engagement that evening.

The following have not yet said that they will attend, so if you live in their constituency, please make a special effort to contact them:

  • Simon Kirby (Brighton Kemptown)
  • Amber Rudd (Hastings and Rye)
  • Maria Caulfield (Lewes)

As members of the government, it is unlikely that either Amber Rudd or Simon Kirby will be able to attend the debate, but it would be useful if they received many requests encouraging them to attend so they will be able to gauge how important an issue this is.

You can contact your MP by completing the short form on this link.

Announcing the start of a new BHT post-natal art therapy group

BHT’s Mental Health & Wellbeing Service is running a new post-natal art therapy group, starting on Thursday 3rd November between 9.30 – 11.30am which will run for 6 consecutive weeks.

new-pnd-art-therapy-poster-nov-2016My colleague, Rachel Pearce, said that the group is intended to support mothers who may be struggling with feelings of depression, anxiety or difficult birth experiences as well as those who would like the opportunity to use art making to explore issues of changed identity and create some space for self, amidst the demands of new motherhood.

She said: “The group will be an opportunity for women to explore their feelings through the use of art materials and discussion, boost their creativity and self-esteem and connect with a small group of other mothers who may be sharing similar experiences.

“A formal diagnosis of Post-Natal Depression is not required and any woman who feels she may benefit from this small, creative group is welcome to self-refer.

“A number of free childcare places will be available alongside this group, for women who need to use it. Places in this group are limited so I would encourage women who are interested to make contact as soon as possible.”

Please contact Rachel on 01273 929471 if you would like more information about this or any other aspect of the services offered by the Mental Health & Wellbeing Service or the women’s counselling service, Threshold.

Footballers go where government and housing associations fail to tread

I was asked this morning on Twitter what I thought of the news that three former professional footballers, Rio Ferdinand, Mark Noble and Bobby Zamora, are leading an initiative to build 1,300 homes in a rundown area near Luton

img_4495They have set up the Legacy Foundation and plan to build a series of social and private rented developments.

They, of course, follow in the footsteps of Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs, but I understand that the Neville/Giggs scheme is to build two luxury skyscrapers and a five star hotel, not social housing.

It is not the first time that the rich and super rich have used their huge fortunes to address social inequality and provide housing. The social housing movement goes back well over 100 years to people like William Sutton (who founded the original and very successful parcel delivery company in London and then left money in his will to build homes for poor people in London), philanthropists like the Rowntree familiy, and many others.

The legacy of these philanthropists are housing associations. Unfortunately, many of today’s housing associations have betrayed the legacy of their founders and are now doing less and less development for poor people. Shared ownership products, homes for outright sale, and other more expensive homes have become the norm, and they price out poor and even middle earning people in some expensive housing areas like Brighton.

What particularly impresses me about Ferdinand, Noble and Zamora is that they intend to focus on social and affordable housing. Each development will have between 45% and 50% social and affordable housing, much greater than we see in many developments.

They are putting in their own money as well as working with private investors.

So what do I think? It is a shame that it is necessary to rewind the clock by more than 100 years where we need philanthropists, albeit former footballers, for stepping in where the government and housing associations fail to tread.

BHT Submission to the Brighton & Hove City Plan Part Two Scoping Paper

(This is a submission I made to Brighton and Hove City Council in response to its consultation on the last phase of the development of its City Plan)

Brighton Housing Trust is pleased to respond to Brighton & Hove City Council’s consultation on the City Plan Part Two Scoping Paper

Brighton Housing Trust (BHT) is at the very heart of initiatives in Brighton and Hove – and elsewhere – to address both the causes and effects of homelessness in the city.

BHT offers services, advice and support for those forced to live on the streets through its First Base day centre in Montpelier Place with 14,708 visits to our early morning session by 955 different clients in 2015/16. We provide housing advice to those with housing problems including those threatened with losing their homes and for those seeking access to the private rented sector.  In 2015 through the advice centre we prevented homelessness in 436 cases.  We provide skills training both at First Base and at the Whitehawk Inn and run an intern placement programme.  Through our Addiction Services, we provide addiction treatment with some 74 per cent of our clients still abstinent 18 months after their treatment was completed.  We provide community housing in the city including Phase One, a 52 bed high support hostel for single homeless men and women; Route One which provides support and accommodation for 60 adults with mental health needs and Richardson’s Yard, an award winning scheme for housing those in need.

The housing crisis in Brighton and Hove is acknowledged in Part One of the City Plan itself as well as through:

It is hoped, the position does not need restating in this submission.

BHT recognises the important role played by strategic planning, planning policies and individual planning decisions in aiding the provision of much needed housing in the city and, in particular, the provision of housing for those most in need.

In recognising this, BHT is fully aware of the burgeoning constraints placed on the planning system that increasingly restrict its ability to require truly affordable housing to be delivered through the development process. We have seen with dismay, for example, the change in the definition of affordable to one that means that housing delivered through planning within this category is not affordable to those in need and those on low and average incomes in the city.

This requires that the City Plan looks for innovative solutions. BHT has already called for Brighton & Hove to be designated as a ‘Housing Crisis Zone’ (https://andywinterbht.wordpress.com/2015/08/08/brighton-and-hove-should-be-declared-a-housing-crisis-zone-requiring-all-housing-development-to-be-for-social-renting-only/). This designation and some of the necessary actions that could follow are matters for central government working with the City Council but BHT urges the City Council to use the City Plan to spell out clearly the extent of the housing crisis and to use that evidence base to support and justify the introduction of strong policies and the unswerving implementation of those that exist.

For example, we acknowledge the strength of the existing policy CP20 setting the affordable housing requirement. However, first, the City Council cannot be seen to be wavering in enforcing its own requirements.  Second, BHT believes that the nature and depth of the housing crisis in the city – coupled with the lack of available larger sites – means that the Council should resist revising this policy to raise the threshold in line with the result of R (West Berkshire District Council and Reading Borough Council) v. Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government [2016] EWCA Civ 441.

Further, BHT asks that consideration should be given to an even more joined-up approach to affordable housing provision through s.106. This may include using receipts from commuted affordable housing payments to support initiatives such as the Council’s own empty homes strategy or in supporting bodies in the city, such as housing co-operatives, which provide housing for those most in need.

As part of this strategic approach, we believe that there needs to be greater co-ordination and mutual reinforcement between the City Plan and the Council’s housing strategy. We note that the diagram of ‘The Housing Strategy Family’ on page 4 of the Housing Strategy does not include the City Plan.

One of the – if not the – most import roles of Part Two of the City Plan is to find means of providing housing to meet the objectively assessed housing need for new housing. As paragraph 37 of the Inspector’s report () points out clearly:

The City Plan Part One, as proposed to be modified, seeks to meet only 44% of the objectively assessed need for new housing. This is a very significant shortfall which has important implications for the social dimension of sustainable development. However, as noted above, the City is subject to significant constraints in finding land for new development. The target of 13,200 new homes is expressed as a minimum, which offers scope for that number to be increased when more detailed consideration of individual sites is undertaken for the preparation of the City Plan Part Two.

To meet the other 56 per cent of previously assessed need – let alone any additional need that may be identified as part of the Part Two preparation process – is an extremely challenging task. BHT urges the City Council to make full use both of identified sites and of windfall sites by maximising densities in line with good practice in sustainable development.  It also urges the Council to examine the scope for encouraging the densification of housing within existing developments – including through the call for sites exercise to be undertaken as part of the Strategic Housing Land Availability Assessment update process.

The Part Two Scoping Paper poses a number of consultation questions. In this submission to the consultation, BHT wants to focus on three of these.

Question H4 asks whether proposed housing site allocations in City Plan Part 2 should seek to specify a range of dwelling types and sizes or should this be left to a more general criteria-based type of planning policy?

The scoping Paper has already identified that:

For affordable housing, the analysis suggests that a greater proportion of one and two bedroom affordable properties will be required. However, the study notes that this does not reflect any specific priorities for family households in need or that smaller homes typically offer more limited flexibility in accommodating changing requirements of households.

BHT believes that, given the constraints put on local authorities in delivering truly affordable housing, the City Plan should use all possible approaches to try to ensure that the supply of housing matches the needs of those in need as evidenced through, for example, data on homeless acceptances. This would require that the City Plan – as the statutory document – does specify a range of dwelling types and sizes.

Question H11 asks whether policies in City Plan Part 2 should resist the loss of housing from within the existing housing stock. Given the existence of a housing crisis in Brighton & Hove, BHT’s answer is an unequivocal ‘yes’.

Finally, Question H18 asks whether the City Plan Part 2 should include a policy that seeks to protect existing HMOs?

BHT recognises that HMO’s can give rise to problems such as noise but we believe that such is the depth of the housing problems in the city that any accommodation that potential serves those who are excluded by purchase or rental cost from other types of accommodation is protected.

This response to Brighton & Hove City Council’s consultation on the City Plan Part Two Scoping Paper is designed both to demonstrates BHT’s willingness to contribute its expertise and informed viewpoint to the development of Part Two of the City Plan and to put forward a number of key issues related to the focus of our work.

BHT would be pleased to discuss any of these matters covered above further and looks forward to being engaged as the process of drafting Part Two develops.