Private rented housing is “out of reach” for under 35s, says the Chartered Institute of Housing

The Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) recently carried out research into the gap between rents in the private rented sector and what Local Housing Allowance (LHA) will pay.

LHA is based on the 30th centile of the range rents charged in the private rented sector. Except it isn’t. That was how it was supposed to be (having previously been reduced from there 50th centile). In fact, the level of payment has been frozen for three years and will be frozen until 2019/20. LHA no longer reflects in any way the reality of rents in a locality.

In Brighton and Hove the rates are £82.66 for a room in a shared house, £153.02 for a one bed flat, £192.48 for a two bed property. The average one bed flat in Brighton and Hove is now £971 per month compared to LHA of £612.08 for the same period.

In Eastbourne the rates are £67.00, £116.53 and £151.50, and in Hastings £69.77, £92.06 and £120.29. (There are higher rates for 3 and 4 properties).

It is worse for you if you are under 35 where you are restricted to claiming LHA for just a room in a shared house.

And if you think it is bad for under 35s, it is EVEN worse for those under 21 for whom the rate is zero (unless you are ‘lucky’ enough to qualify for one of several exemptions – merely being a rough sleeper is not enough).

So what has the CIH found? It has found that the gap between LHA and rents has widened to the point where private rented housing is “out of reach” for under 35s.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote how the senior civil servant responsible for housing policy at the Department for Work and Pensions, Darrell Smith, said that the government is now going to use LHA rates to set new, lower rents for specialist supported housing. Why? Because it is such a good barometer for the market? No. He said: “The one advantage of (LHA rates) is that they are already there, so it doesn’t cost the government anything to set it up. I know”, he continued, “that isn’t a great answer but that’s all I have got”.

Overly strict enforcement of regulations can lead to homelessness

This is the text of a letter I had published in today’s Brighton Argus (14th April 2017) in response to, and in support of, a letter from Mike Stimpson from the Southern Landlords Association who warned that the uncritical enforcement of regulations would result in an increase in rough sleeping

When someone speaks who has as much housing experience as Mike Stimpson from the Southern Landlords Association, we would be wise to listen. Few individuals have such in-depth knowledge, and he is one of the few landlords who will still accommodate people on the lowest incomes.

In his letter of 13th April 2017 he warns that a consequence of the enforcement of regulations relating to houses in multiple occupation will lead to more people becoming street homeless. We should all sit up and listen.

Regardless of what one might think of housing being provided through private landlords, the reality is that almost four times as many homes are let in this way compared to those provided by the City Council and housing associations. With spiralling house prices, fewer local people will be able to buy in the years ahead. We must work with private landlords to make sure housing need in the city is being met.

At the same time, Cllr Tracey Hill is attempting to ensure that family homes for rent are not lost. She rightly wants to avoid whole areas becoming blighted by studentification with small family homes being turned into accommodation for six or seven students.

Her efforts in this regard are to be applauded and should be seen as a challenge to our two universities where not enough accommodation is provided to houses the ever-increasing student population in the city. Whether we can reverse what already has happened is unlikely.

If there is an issue of a lack of basic amenities, fire risks and overcrowding, then enforcement action should be taken. Enforcement is right in some cases, but not in cases where there is cooperation by the landlords and where standards are marginally below what we would ideally like.

This week I heard of enforcement action being against a property that has been let as four bedsits since the early 1960s. I don’t know the property myself, but the provision of such accommodation is essential for someone’s housing journey. I myself once rented a property which falls beneath current minimum space requirements, but small though it was, it was my home and I was happy there.

The simplest way to avoid council houses for families being lost and becoming houses in multiple occupation is by ending the Right to Buy, and not extending it even further to housing association homes. One in four, and some studies suggest one in three, former council homes are now in the private rented sector charging rents four times greater than the previous council rents. How many of these homes in Brighton and Hove, are now let to students?

Shared housing is all that is affordable for many, and the only form of accommodation for which those under 35 can claim housing benefit. I am a harsh critic of government housing policy, but while it remains as it is, we need to ensure that there is a balanced provision of homes.

We need to get this right, and the City Council could do worse that having a very early meeting with Mike Stimpson to find a way forward.

Housing White Paper: My Reaction

social-housing-4I am a bit late in the day, but here is my response to the Government’s White Paper on housing:

There has been widespread criticism of previous announcements, and this White Paper marks a major shift in government policy. I welcome the new direction of travel, but feel that the destination will be a real disappointment to anyone who was hoping that we were to see major progress in the supply of affordable homes for rent, especially the absence of the much needed commitment to a return to council house building.

It is as if the promise of a beautiful beach holiday ends up being the seafront in Bognor Regis on a wet Tuesday afternoon in September.

I welcome the £3 billion nod in the direction of off-site construction, something I have advocated for several years and have seen working well with BHT’s partners such as QED and KSD.

I am not opposed to developments with greater density, especially in areas such as Brightton and Hove with high demand and limited land. But any increase in the density of developments must, somehow, not merely result in increased profitability of developments. It must lead to greater affordability. Quality design is a must in such developments.

I welcome the decision to abandon the Conservative Party’s manifesto commitment that 20% of all homes in new developments should be Starter Homes. This was a flagship commitment of David Cameron, in the 2015 manifesto, to build 200,000 of Starter Homes by 2020.

The thinking behind dropping this manifesto commitment must be a recognition that if a development has 20% Starter Homes, there would be no capacity for any other form of social housing.

Not to abandon the Right to Buy, and to persevere with extending the scheme (albeit extremely cautiously) to housing associations, are both Bognor Regis moments.  Worse still, the government has indicated it now wishes to extend Right to Buy to councils’ private housing companies.

Bullish statements have been made about forcing local authorities to ensure that there are plans in place, and the bizarre threat of the Chair of the Homes and Communities Agency to “cane” those that do not deliver, all sounds a bit hollow. I had hoped the government would have returned powers to local authorities, backed up by capital investment, to build new council houses.

The Green Belt is being given protection, but developments will be allowed “in exceptional circumstances”. What greater exceptional circumstances are there than a housing crisis on a scale that this country has never known. If it is true that Surrey has more land given over to golf courses than housing, then I won’t weep if some green belt is lost.

On the private rented sector, if powers are given to local authorities to impose banning orders on the worst landlords, such powers must be backed up by resources to allow councils to enforce this and for independent advice agencies to enforce the rights of tenants. Rights are only as good as the ability to enforce them. Otherwise they are hollow threats.

The ambition of the plan, and the fanfare it has been given, is not matched by planned delivery, and even though there are aspirations to build the homes the nation needs, it sounds similar to previous statements and aspirations.

As I wrote at the weekend, the private sector isn’t going to deliver the homes that are needed, social homes for rent. In 30 years I have seen housing white papers come and go. The 2016 white paper, I fear, will not live long in the memory, a bit like a damp Tuesday afternoon in September in Bognor.

Photo of the Day: Preston Park, a beautiful, safe and free to use public space

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We are very very lucky to live in a city with lots of open spaces and parks. This afternoon I had the great pleasure of walking my dog Daisy around Preston Park. It is a beautiful place, it is safe, and it is free to use. We often forget to think of the people who created it and keep it now, not least employees of the City Council and the volunteers in the Friends of Preston Park.

Shared Spaces: reaction to my post from people who don’t agree with me.

I seem to have provoked a bit of a reaction from my post yesterday (Shared Public spaces are a complete hoax) when I said that I thought so-called ‘shared spaces’ for vans, cars, cyclists and pedestrians were a complete hoax, and that there is a clear hierarchy of supremacy in any conflict between them.

img_4021Mark Strong asked me what I think of the ‘shared space’ arrangements in New Road? It clearly works better, not least because of the volume of pedestrians, and the only vehicles that tend to use it are taxis and delivery vehicles who appear to have greater respect for pedestrians.

Mark says that Ann Street is “not perfect but it’s a lot better than before, even with the odd idiot”. That may be so, but it might be better still if there wasn’t the pretence of equality in the so-called ‘shared space’. I remain of the view that the concept is a hoax.

Mark does acknowledge that “transport planners do have range of views on ‘shared space’ (or ‘sh… space’ as Joan Dales (@johnstreetdales) calls it”.

Mark also comments that he hadn’t expected me to fall into the “anti expert trap”! He says that the “design of Ann St was done with lots of public engagement”. My experience over the years has given me a bit of a cynical view about transport planning ‘experts’ who say something will be great but turns out to be a disaster, or says something can’t be done when, with a bit of pressure it is readily achievable, such as the pedestrian refuge at the junction of Ditchling Road and Oxford Street which I campaigned for.

I am not opposed to ‘experts’ but often council officers are presented, or present themselves, as experts when they are nothing of the kind. (I’m doing well, upsetting a whole cohort of colleagues in the local authority! There are, of course, experts in areas such as environmental health and trading standards whose expertise and professionalism I applaud).

I was contacted by the Sea of Change who have produced a devastating film on the impact of ‘shared spaces’ on blind people. These people are real experts, and it is well worth watching their film that can be found here.

There is coverage in the film of the ‘shared space’ in Lewes. It is strong stuff.

Sea of Change said that many schemes have u-turned because “people have been killed/injured, and blind people have not been auble to use them (share spaces) independently. I would also add shared space has brought complete chaos to Preston which is trying to be resolved unsuccessfully”.

Simon Bannister disagrees with me with me on ‘shared spaces’. He said: “OK #SharedSpace isn’t universal salve but Ann St has been hugely improved.” He says he will “report back with evidence based findings in a few weeks.”

Oh dear, he has touched on another of my pet hates with the use of the phrase ‘evidence based’. Yes, of course all evidence should be looked at, but too many people use the phrase to exclude and negate anecdotal evidence. It is a phrase that can be disempowering for people whose lived experience says something different to the so-called experts. ‘Evidence based’ arguments can tend to reflect what one ‘expert’ says to another ‘expert’ thereby reenforcing a particular narrow outlook.

Ian Chisnall gets it right when he says that “the issue is that insufficient effort is made to change the culture of the people using the areas. I think the skatepark in Hollingdean is less dominated by male skaters”. Critically, he says that “the Level lacks the level of supervision we were originally promised and it is exposed to all sorts of risks as a result that do not help.”

But I don’t agree with him about expanding the ‘shared space’ to the whole city: “The Ann Street area exists in isolation of most of the rest of the city, perhaps if we could move towards a shared space city (except for the arterial roads) we might see a bit more tolerance?”

We need more enforcement, but then enforcement is not liked. Just look at today’s Argus (3rd January). Perhaps later I will write about the fining of motorists who use bus lanes. Why not really make myself unpopular!

PS In case you are wondering how I have time to engage in this debate on ‘shared space’, I am still on annual leave, due back to work next Monday, so I still have plenty of time to upset even more people!

Photo of the Day: Shared public spaces are a complete hoax

It is a bit early in the new year for me to be too curmudgeonly, but nothing has stopped me before!

I often walk down Ann Street in Brighton’s New England Quarter, through the ill-conceived ‘shared space’ for vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians.

img_4021I have long observed this ridiculous arrangement for which some ‘expert’ no doubt was well paid and applauded. But it is a complete nonsense. Even on a quiet bank holiday morning a large white van gave no quarter as pedestrians had to make a hurried escape. I have seen cyclists aggressively ring their bells, even shout at pedestrians to assert their supremacy.

In a dispute between a vehicle, a cyclist and a pedestrian, there is a clear hierarchy of supremacy.

It is similar at the nearby skatepark on The Level. Huge amounts of funds and space have been allocated to a facility for boys and young men, at the expense of girls and young women. Yet this scheme won awards and the Council is proud of it. But what does it say about the Council’s commitment to equality?

No doubt apologists for the skate park will say it is open to girls and young women, but a passing view will confirm that its use is usually exclusively male. No alternative provision is made for girls.

The presence of so many adult men is intimidating for girls and young women, as well as for young boys.

So called ‘shared spaces’ are a complete hoax.

Early Day Motion on the cost of children’s funerals: responses (or lack of) from our local MPs

Shortly before Christmas I wrote a post about the Fair Funerals Campaign and an Early Day Motion (EDM) regarding the cost of children’s funerals.

In that post I called on the three MPs for Brighton and Hove to sign the EDM. I was advised by Labour Councillor, Caroline Penn, that Peter Kyle (Hove) never signs EDMs, but assured me that “he’ll be fighting the cause in more effective ways”. Peter followed this up himself saying: “Caroline is right on both counts. Happy to meet and find ways I can meaningfully support”.

Caroline Lucas (Brighton Pavilion) and Simon Kirby (Brighton Kemptown) have not yet signed.

I am grateful for these responses, although I think that EDMs are a meaningful and an effective way for back benchers and opposition MPs to raise a point with government. This particular EDM has received more MP signatures than any other for the whole of 2016. A total of 152 politicians have now signed including MPs from eight different political parties including the Conservative Party.

The campaign for a children’s funeral fund is being led by Carolyn Harris MP. She is calling on the government to put £10 million into funding children’s funerals across the country. This would make sure grieving parents don’t face the added trauma and distress of funeral poverty. Carolyn lost her own 8 year old son and wasn’t able to afford his burial fees.

I hope that Simon, Caroline and Peter will make sure Theresa May and other Ministers don’t forget about funeral poverty and that the children’s funeral fund becomes a reality.

Click here for more information about the Fair Funerals Campaign.